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Sully-sur-Loire, a medieval castle visited by (among others) Joan of Arc, Louis XIV Notre-Dame church in Orleans, France Giotto “Madonna and child” Life and Literature of The Middle Ages

Middle Ages: 

Middle Ages Middle Ages/Medieval Period: 476 to 1453 C.E. Also known as the Dark Ages "Middle Age:” invented by Italian scholars in the early 15th Century. Until this time it was believed there had been two periods in history, that of Ancient times and that of the period later referred to as the "Dark Age.“ Renaissance means “rebirth” The humanistic revival of classical art, architecture, literature, and learning that originated in Italy in the 14th century and later spread throughout Europe. The period of this revival, roughly the 14th through the 16th century, marking the transition from medieval to modern times.

Medieval Period in a Historical Nutshell: 

Medieval Period in a Historical Nutshell Rome attacked in 476 C.E. The beginning of the Middle Ages is often called the "Dark Ages” Fall of Greece and Rome Life in Europe during the Middle Ages was very hard. Very few people could read or write and nobody expected conditions to improve. Only hope: strong belief in Christianity; heaven would be better than life on earth. In contrast: The Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa studied and improved on the works of the ancient Greeks Civilization flourished in sub-Saharan Africa, China, India, and the Americas. Great change by about 1450 Columbus & America literacy spread scientists made great discoveries artists created work that still inspires us today. The Renaissance is the beginning of modern history.

Middle Ages: General Timeline: 

Middle Ages: General Timeline 1095-1291C.E. Crusades

With the Fall of Rome…..: 

With the Fall of Rome….. Barbarian* tribes were seeping into Britain and Western European lands Emperors became more like kings Feudalism: involuntary peasant labor on lands not their own; personal bonds and personal law beginning to replace impersonal law common to large expanses of territory Medieval Guilds the Catholic Church, would provide spiritual and moral direction, as well as leadership and material support, during the darkest times of the early Medieval period. Barbarian was originally a term applied to any foreigner, one not sharing a recognized culture or degree of polish with the speaker or writer employing the term. The word derives from the Greek, and expresses with mocking duplication ("bar-bar") alleged attempts by outsiders to speak a "real" language.

Key Concepts of the Middle Ages: 

Key Concepts of the Middle Ages War Religion


Feudalism Feudalism: system of loyalties and protections during the Middle Ages. As the Roman Empire crumbled, emperors granted land to nobles in exchange for their loyalty. These lands eventually developed into manors. A manor is the land owned by a noble and everything on it. A typical manor consisted of a castle, small village, and farmland. During the Middle Ages, peasants could no longer count on the Roman army to protect them. German, Viking and Magyar tribes overran homes and farms throughout Europe. Serfs would often have to work three or four days a week for the lord as rent. They would spend the rest of their week growing crops to feed their families. Other serfs worked as sharecroppers. A sharecropper would be required to turn over most of what he grew in order to be able to live on the land. Key facts about feudal society: The absence of a strong central authority of government Economy based on agriculture, with limited money exchange The strength of the Church: Church had the right to a share (tithe) of society's output as well as substantial landholdings. In return, the church was obligated with specific authority and responsibility for moral and material welfare.

The Church: 

The Church Christianity became the universal faith of almost all of the people of Europe. The Church was often the only way to get an education. It also allowed poor people to escape a dreary life and possibly rise to power. Religious workers are called clergy. In the Middle Ages, the Pope ruled the Christian Church. Other clergy included bishops, priests, nuns, and monks. Monks: men who lived in monasteries, or small communities of religious workers. devoted their lives to prayer Monasteries produced many well-educated men prepared to serve as administrators for uneducated kings and lords. Monks were responsible for keeping the Greek and Latin “classical” cultures alive. Monks copied books by hand in an era before the printing press. Though few in number, monks played a significant role in the Middle Ages.

Medieval Literature: 

Medieval Literature Beowulf is the oldest surviving epic poem in what is identifiable as a form of the English language. (The oldest surviving text in English is Caedmon's hymn of creation.) The precise date of the manuscript is debated, but most estimates place it close to AD 1000. The story came to England at a time when the Germanic peoples were still part of the same cultural sphere and spoke what really were just dialects of the same language. It is known only from a single manuscript, kept in the British Library. The manuscript suffered some irreversible damage in a fire in 1731. The manuscript was written in Old English. Some Old English words and sounds closely resemble modern English. Today most readers read a version of the poem translated into modern english.


Beowulf Beowulf is an Anglo-Saxon epic poem which relates the adventures of Beowulf, a Scandinavian hero who saves the Danes from the seemingly invincible monster Grendel and, later, from Grendel's mother. He then returns to his own country, Geatland, and dies in old age in a vivid fight against a dragon. The poem is about encountering the monstrous, defeating it, and then having to live on in the exhausted aftermath. Grendel

Map: The Geography of Beowulf : 

Map: The Geography of Beowulf


Beowulf As a Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University, J.R.R. Tolkien probably taught Beowulf every year of his working life His scholarly paper, “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics” brought studies of the poem to the forefront of the academic world Tolkien's imagined world of Arda owes something of it's creation to Beowulf: “Beowulf is among my most valued sources” (Letters, no.25). Tolkien used Beowulf in creating his own works and adopting the good vs. evil archetype. Just as our modern English language is based on the ancient English, Tolkien used Old English words in his creation of names. Tolkien included almost 50 Anglo-Saxon words or phrases from Beowulf in his works.

The Canterbury Tales: 

The Canterbury Tales Englishman Geoffrey Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales, a collection of stories in a frame story, between 1387 and 1400. Story about of a group of thirty people who travel as pilgrims to Canterbury (England). The pilgrims, who come from all layers of society, tell stories to each other to kill time while they travel to Canterbury. Chaucer intended that each pilgrim should tell two tales on the way to Canterbury and two tales on the way back. He never finished his enormous project and even the completed tales were not finally revised. Scholars are uncertain about the order of the tales. As the printing press had yet to be invented when Chaucer wrote his works, The Canterbury Tales has been passed down in several handwritten manuscripts. The Canterbury Tales is written in Middle English.

Canterbury Tales: 

Canterbury Tales 1    Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote       When April with its sweet-smelling showers 2   The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,        Has pierced the drought of March to the root, And bathed every veyne in swich licour       And bathed every vein (of the plants) in such liquid Of which vertu engendred is the flour;    By the power of which the flower is created;   Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth   When the West Wind also with its sweet breath, Inspired hath in every holt and heeth   In every holt and heath, has breathed life into The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne       The tender crops, and the young sun Hath in the Ram his half cours yronne,      Has run its half course in Aries, And smale foweles maken melodye,       And small fowls make melody, 10     That slepen al the nyght with open ye          Those that sleep all the night with open eyes 11     (So priketh hem Nature in hir corages),           (So Nature incites them in their hearts), 12   Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,            Then folk long to go on pilgrimages, 13 And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,           And professional pilgrims (long) to seek foreign shores, 14    To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes; To (go to) distant shrines, known in various lands; 15  And specially from every shires ende      And specially from every shire's end 16   Of Engelond to Caunterbury they wende,        Of England to Canterbury they travel, 17  The hooly blisful martir for to seke,         To seek the holy blessed martyr, 18   That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.                Who helped them when they were sick.

The Canterbury Tales: 

The Canterbury Tales Chaucer began work on The Canterbury Tales about 1387 and intended for each of his thirty pilgrims to tell four tales, two while traveling to Canterbury and two while traveling from Canterbury. However, only twenty-three pilgrims received a story before Chaucer's death in 1400. Chaucer's Tales gained mass popularity the early fifteenth century. “ all of humanity moves through its pages.” Presents humor, at once friendly and satirical. This facsimile is the first reproduction ever made of this manuscript, considered a prime authority for the text of The Canterbury Tales.

Canterbury Tales: 

Canterbury Tales A rich, tapestry of medieval social life combining elements of all classes, from nobles to workers, from priests and nuns to drunkards and thieves. When The Canterbury Tales were written: Christianity was the dominant social force throughout western Europe, including England. In 1388, while Chaucer was working on the tales, a change occurred in the way that Christianity was perceived and practiced when John Wycliffe, an English reformer, released a version of the Bible translated into English. For the first time, people from the lower classes, who had not been educated in Latin, could read the Bible themselves instead of having its word interpreted to them by members of the clergy.

Canterbury Tales: 

Canterbury Tales The General Prologue consists of character sketches of each member of the group that is going to Canterbury, as described by Chaucer, who is also a character in his own novel. Any other characters in The Canterbury Tales are created by one of the pilgrims, in stories within the novel. Therefore, these lesser characters are so numerous, that it is counter-productive to give them a character sketch. Since the General Prologue and the main characters overlap almost completely, the character summaries will be combined with the General Prologue, but elaborated on by use of other parts of the text. Chaucer: He is a character in his own novel, and he writes in the first person as an outside observer traveling with the pilgrims on their way to Canterbury.

Canterbury Tales- some of the characters: 

Canterbury Tales- some of the characters The Knight: a warrior who relies on the code of chivalry. Represents the romanticized standards of the feudal system The Prioress: A nun, named Madame Eglantine. She makes every effort to be refined and elegant, and she cannot bear to see any harm come to any of God’s lesser creatures, like mice. However, when it is her turn to tell a story, hers is violent and full of blood and sorrow. The Merchant: The merchant is obsessed with his wealth, and talks about money constantly. The Wife of Bath: A well-traveled middle-aged woman who has been married five times, not counting other lovers she did not marry. She has a large amount of knowledge from experience, and when she questions the authority of the bible, she does it with a very good background from which to debate it. Poor Priest: lived truly poor and in the service of God. An example of how a traditional priest should live in Chaucer’s time, following the life of Christ. The Miller: a large and strong man, and is one of the best at telling vulgar stories. The Pardoner: A clergyman who is outwardly corrupt. His main motivating factor was money, and so if the sinner had the gold, the Pardoner would favor the sinner and help pardon him.

Canterbury Tales: The Retraction: 

Canterbury Tales: The Retraction Chaucer concludes his tales with praise to Jesus Christ. "Now preye I to hem alle that herkne thai litel tretys or / rede, that if ther be any thyng in it that liketh hem, that / therof they thanken oure Lord Jesu Crist, of whom procedeth / al wit and al goodnesse" (Chaucer's Retraction, l.1-4). He adds that if anyone does not understand these tales, then it is due to his ignorance and not his intention, which was to fully capture the goodness of Christ in tale. He requests pardon from Christ for any problems there may be with the text. He hopes to be granted mercy and kindness so that he may ascend to heaven at his time and concludes the long tales of Canterbury with this final line: "So that I may been oon of / hem at the day of doome that shulle be saved. Qui cum patre, &cetera." Chaucer's Retraction, l.29-30

King Arthurian Legend: 

King Arthurian Legend Arthurian legend has become the mirror of the ideal of medieval knighthood and chivalry. Arthur: Was the illegitimate son of Uther Pendragon, king of Britain Became king of Britain by successfully withdrawing a sword from a stone. Possessed the miraculous sword Excalibur , given to him by the mysterious Lady of the Lake . Arthur's enemies: sister Morgan le Fay and his nephew Mordred. Morgan le Fay was usually represented as an evil sorceress, scheming to win Arthur's throne for herself. Mordred (or Modred) was variously Arthur's nephew or his son by his sister Morgawse. He seized Arthur's throne during the king's absence. Later he was slain in battle by Arthur, but not before he had fatally wounded the king. Most invincible knights in Arthur's realm: Sir Tristram and Sir Launcelot of the Lake. Sir Gawain, Arthur's nephew, who appeared variously as the ideal of knightly courtesy and as the bitter enemy of Launcelot. After 1225 no significant medieval Arthurian literature was produced on the Continent. In England, however, the legend continued to flourish. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (c.1370), one of the best Middle English romances, embodies the ideal of chivalric knighthood. The last important medieval work dealing with the Arthurian legend is the Morte d'Arthur of Sir Thomas Malory , whose tales have become the source for most subsequent Arthurian material.

Sir Gawain & The Green Knight (ca 1370): 

Sir Gawain & The Green Knight (ca 1370) This poem tells the story of Gawain, a knight and member of King Arthur’s Round Table A perfect example of the idealism and romanticism of chivalry Plot Overview During a New Year’s Eve feast at King Arthur’s court, a strange figure, referred to only as the Green Knight, pays the court an unexpected visit. challenges the group’s leader or any other brave representative to a game: The Green Knight says that he will allow whomever accepts the challenge to strike him with his own axe, on the condition that the challenger find him in exactly one year to receive a blow in return. Arthur hesitates to respond, but when the Green Knight mocks Arthur’s silence, the king steps forward to take the challenge.

Dante Alighieri- The Divine Comedy (written from 1306 to 1321): 

Dante Alighieri- The Divine Comedy (written from 1306 to 1321) The Divine Comedy, by Dante Alighieri, is comprised of 3 works: Inferno Purgatorio Paradiso Inferno the most widely read section Dante describes a journey through Hell from the entrance at the lowest and less harsh level. His companion for the travel is Virgil, a mentor and protector. Constructed as a huge funnel with nine descending circular ledges Dante’s Hell carefully categorizes sinners according to the nature of their sins. Those who recognize and repudiate their sins are given a change to purify themselves in Purgatorio, the second of three segments in the poem. Therefore, Dante feels Hell is a necessary, painful first step of any man’s spiritual journey. The Divine Comedy is in no way a comedic literary work. Dante himself simply called this work "Comedy." because the poem is a optimistic process from Hell toward Heaven, or from worse to better.

Dante’s Life: 

Dante’s Life Born in Florence, Italy, in 1265. His family was considered part of the lesser nobility The death of one of his childhood friends a turning point in his life. At the age of nine, Dante was introduced to Beatrice Portinari in 1274. According to studies by Boccacio, her death in 1290 propelled him to begin an intensive study in the philosophical works of Boethius, Cicero, and Aristotle. Beatrice is alluded to in several of his other works but specifically The Divine Comedy where she is commemorated as the ideal lady who guides him to redemption in Paradiso. Dante became increasingly involved with politics. He was elected as one of the six offices of president of the Florentine Guilds in 1300. After a coup in 1313, Dante fled Florence and lost hope of ever returning. He remained in Verona and a year later moved to Revenna where he died in 1321. Although Dante is most famous for his poem The Divine Comedy, he also wrote some other highly influential works. These include a collection of early poems published in La Vita Nuova (c. 1293; The New Life). Written in commemoration of Beatrice’s death, The New Life was a new, innovative approach to love poetry and equates love with a mystical and spiritual revelation.

Structure of Inferno: 

Structure of Inferno As part of this work, Dante put real-life and mythological figures in the Inferno based on what he saw were their sins, making this work a political and social commentary He organized the work into Cantos, or short chapters, much like Homer’s uses “books” in creating The Odyssey The sinners in the nine circles of hell are guilty of one of three types of sin: Incontinence: losing control of natural appetites and desires Brutishness: attraction to things which repulse the healthy soul Malice / Vice: abuse of reason, a human's most god-like quality

Structure of Inferno- Some Examples: 

Structure of Inferno- Some Examples

Salvador Dali’s Work inspired by Inferno: 

Salvador Dali’s Work inspired by Inferno Canto 26-27 Evil counselors Ulysses



Middle Ages: General Timeline: 

Middle Ages: General Timeline

Medieval Movie Clip: 

Medieval Movie Clip

King Arthur Clip: 

King Arthur Clip

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