Medieval Studies 301


Medieval Studies 301: European Literature from the 5th to the 14th Century (3 CREDITS)

Selected works from the 5th to the 14th centuries in their cultural and social contexts.

Term 1: TTH 1-2:30PM

Prof. Juliet O’Brien, Department of French, Hispanic and Italian Studies

Office: Buchanan Tower 728; phone: 604 822-4009

“The function of freedom is to free someone else.” (Toni Morrison)

What is a liberal arts education? A course in the Faculty of Arts? What does it mean to be a student at a university? What’s the point of reading? Or of lifelong learning? What are the personal, public, social, and cultural purposes of all these things?

In this interdisciplinary course we will explore some answers to these questions—as current now as they have been over the last several centuries—offered by some Medieval texts written in European vernaculars and in Latin, and having an influence throughout Medieval Europe. While our principal focus will be the study of literary works, we will also explore the historical landscape in which these landmarks are situated; the cultural background against which their actions are staged; and their relationship to an integrated creative and intellectual environment—including visual and plastic arts, music, ideas, and the sciences.

The course starts with a 5th-century text: Martianus Capella, De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii. It will introduce us to the history of the idea of liberal arts and some of its architects, from the pre-medieval ( Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Seneca) to the medieval ( Alcuin, Charlemagne, Alain de Lille) worlds; to university, scholarly, student, and intellectual cultures; and to the cultural roles of commentary and satire.

The main body of the course centres on a 13th-century work which resonates through the 14th century and beyond, Guillaume de Lorris & Jean de Meun’s Roman de la Rose, through which “portal-text” we will investigate each of the seven liberal arts of the trivium (logic, grammar, rhetoric) and quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy).

The last three weeks will conclude in medievalist epilogue: looking forward to the 16th-c. studia humanitas, the post-medieval liberal arts & humanistic education, post-humanism and ecocriticism, emancipation and social justice, utopias, rethinking the university, speculative futures … and student final presentations.

Classes consist of interactive lectures interspersed with discussions. Assessment is based on a midterm short commentary paper; a round-table short presentation followed by a student-led discussion or debate; a final research project and its presentation; and, throughout the course, class participation and regular short writing on the course blog. The course is taught in English. Work may be written in English or another language according to preference or program requirements. There is no pre-requisite for this course.