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An introduction to the commentary on poem during the crusade period

The October 2018 Issue

The morality play, Everyman, is dated "after 1485" and probably belongs to the early-sixteenth century. In addition, for the Middle Ages, there is no one central movement or event such as the English Reformation, the Civil War, or the Restoration around which to organize a historical approach to the period. When did "English Literature" begin? Any answer to that question must be problematic, for the very concept of English literature is a construction of literary history, a concept that changed over time.

There are no "English" characters in Beowulf, and English scholars and authors had no knowledge of the poem before it was discovered and edited in the nineteenth century. Although written in the language called "Anglo-Saxon," the poem was claimed by Danish and German scholars as their earliest national epic before it came to be thought of as an "Old English" poem.

  1. The Church herself was forced to reexamine and define her position of the problem posed by the large-scale persecution of the Jews.
  2. The Hebrew chronicle of Eliezer bar Nathan gives a moving account of attacks made by some of the crusaders on Jewish communities in the Rhineland — the beginnings of the persecution of European Jews in the later Middle Ages.
  3. Edward, the Prince of Wales, who took the king of France prisoner at the battle of Poitiers in 1356, had culturally more in common with his royal captive than with the common people of England.
  4. He was eventually ransomed. Partly this was due to the imperative necessity of finding a new outlet for their capital; partly to the increased demands on the part of the crusaders for ready cash to equip themselves and to carry with them on their travels.

One of the results of the Norman Conquest was that the structure and vocabulary of the English language changed to such an extent that Chaucer, even if he had come across a manuscript of Old English poetry, would have experienced far more difficulty construing the language than with medieval Latin, French, or Italian. If a King Arthur had actually lived, he would have spoken a Celtic language possibly still intelligible to native speakers of Middle Welsh but not to Middle English speakers.

The literary culture of the Middle Ages was far more international than national and was divided more by lines of class and audience than by language.

Latin was the language of the Church and of learning. After the eleventh century, French became the dominant language of secular European literary culture. Edward, the Prince of Wales, who took the king of France prisoner at the battle of Poitiers in 1356, had culturally more in common with his royal captive than with the common people of England.

How to Think About the Crusades

And the legendary King Arthur was an international figure. Stories about him and his knights originated in Celtic poems and tales and were adapted and greatly expanded in Latin chronicles and French romances even before Arthur became an English hero.

Chaucer was certainly familiar with poetry that had its roots in the Old English period. He read popular romances in Middle English, most of which derive from more sophisticated French and Italian sources.

The Crusades

But when he began writing in the 1360s and 1370s, he turned directly to French and Italian models as well as to classical poets especially Ovid. English poets in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries looked upon Chaucer and his contemporary John Gower as founders of English literature, as those who made English a language fit for cultivated readers. In the Renaissance, Chaucer was referred to as the "English Homer. Cultures is put in the plural deliberately, for there is a tendency, even on the part of medievalists, to think of the Middle Ages as a single culture epitomized by the Great Gothic cathedrals in which architecture, art, music, and liturgy seem to join in magnificent expressions of a unified faith — an approach one recent scholar has referred to as "cathedralism.

The texts included here from "The Middle Ages" attempt to convey that diversity. They date from the sixth to the late- fifteenth century. An Anglo-Saxon poet who was writing an epic based on the book of Genesis was able to insert into his work the episodes of the fall of the angels and the fall of man that he adapted with relatively minor changes from an Old Saxon poem thought to have been lost until a fragment from it was found late in the nineteenth century in the Vatican Library. Germanic mythology and legend preserved in Old Icelandic literature centuries later than Beowulf provide us with better insights into stories known to the poet than anything in ancient Greek and Roman epic poetry.

Particular attention is given to religious orders and to the ascetic ideals that were supposed to rule the lives of men and women living in religious communities such as Chaucer's Prioress, Monk, and Friar, who honor those rules more in the breach than in the observance and anchorites such as Julian of Norwich living apart. The Rule of Saint Benedict, written for a sixth-century religious community, can serve the modern reader as a guidebook to the ideals and daily practices of monastic life.

The mutual influence of those ideals and new aristocratic ideals of chivalry is evident in the selection from the Ancrene Riwle Rule for Anchoresses, NAEL 8, [1.

Though medieval social theory has little to say about women, women were sometimes treated satirically as if they constituted their own estate and profession in rebellion against the divinely ordained rule of men. The tenth-century English Benedictine monk Aelfric gives one of the earliest formulations of the theory of three estates — clergy, nobles, and commoners — working harmoniously together.

But the deep- seated resentment between the upper and lower estates flared up dramatically in the Uprising of 1381 and is revealed by the slogans of the rebels, which are cited here in selections from the chronicles of Henry Knighton and Thomas Walsingham, and by the attack of the poet John Gower on the rebels in his Vox Clamantis. In the late-medieval genre of estates satire, all three estates are portrayed as selfishly corrupting and disrupting a mythical social order believed to have prevailed in a past happier age.

Such adventures often take the form of a quest to achieve honor or what Sir Thomas Malory often refers to as "worship. In the thirteenth century, clerics turned the sagas of Arthur and his knights — especially Sir Lancelot — into immensely long prose romances that disparaged worldly chivalry and the love of women and advocated spiritual chivalry and sexual purity. These were the "French books" that Malory, as his editor and printer William Caxton tells us, "abridged into English," and gave them the definitive form from which Arthurian literature has survived in poetry, prose, art, and film into modern times.

Preached by Pope Urban II, the aim of the crusade was to unite warring Christian factions in the common goal of liberating the Holy Land from its Moslem rulers.

  1. Runciman empathized with the sophistication of Byzantine civilization, which he blamed the Latins for undermining, and he shared the post-imperial pessimism of the British upper class. Henry also ordered in May 1098 an inquiry into the manner of disposal of the property of massacred Jews in Mainz thus provoking the displeasure of the local bishop.
  2. He captured the Egyptian city of Damietta, but was himself taken captive in the battle for Cairo.
  3. It was in the region where the crusaders assembled that violence broke out, in the weeks between Passover and Shavuot. However, precisely because the crusaders ignored this stipulation, the Crusade was partially deflected from its initial course, with tragic consequences for the Jews of Europe.
  4. For the Muslim world, the loss of Jerusalem, largely ignored at the time, came to seem in retrospect a traumatic if also cathartic experience.

The chronicle of Robert the Monk is one of several versions of Urban's address. The Hebrew chronicle of Eliezer bar Nathan gives a moving account of attacks made by some of the crusaders on Jewish communities in the Rhineland — the beginnings of the persecution of European Jews in the later Middle Ages.

In the biography of her father, the Byzantine emperor Alexius I, the princess Anna Comnena provides us with still another perspective of the leaders of the First Crusade whom she met on their passage through Constantinople en route to the Holy Land.

The taking of Jerusalem by the crusaders came to be celebrated by European writers of history and epic poetry as one of the greatest heroic achievements of all times. The accounts by the Arab historian Ibn Al-Athir and by William of Tyre tell us what happened after the crusaders breached the walls of Jerusalem from complementary but very different points of view.