Sunday, March 27, 2016

Unfortunately Simon Doubleday's talk [described below] is postponed until some time next year.
Regrets and apologies for any inconvenience.

Those too eager to wait until next year can attend Simon's talk at  the Hispanic Society of America on April 9.

"The Wise King's Nightmare
Simon Doubleday, Professor of History, Hofstra University
Friday April 1, 7:30PM [POSTPONED]
365 5th Ave (btw 34th and 35th Streets)
English Studies Conference Room (4406)
Among the Cantigas de Santa María of Alfonso X, el Sabio (1252-84), one song to the Virgin describes a scene in which the king himself experiences a nightmarish vision while taking a siesta in his palace in the city of Seville, recently conquered from its Muslim rulers. The king dreams he sees the Virgin Mary, crying out in the castle chapel. In her arms, she is carrying a small child, and she running desperately to the chapel door, for the chapel is on fire. Alfonso dreams that she calls out to him to rescue her child, even if she must die. This talk will attempt to unpack the meanings of this nightmare, in the context of a tense colonial occupation, asking whether it can be read as having psychological as well as theological significance, and how, more broadly, we might use the Cantigas de Santa María, as evidence for the history of emotions in medieval Spain. Might the Wise King's nightmare even provide a glimpse of a repressed horror of thirteenth-century war, and its impact on civilian populations?

Wednesday, March 2, 2016


Chaucer and the Matter of Troy
Reading the Blank Spaces in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, MS 61
Marilynn Desmond
Distinguished Professor, English Department, SUNY Binghamton
Friday, March 4 2016
7:30pm
CUNY Graduate Center
365 5th Ave (btw 34th and 35th Streets) 
English Studies Conference Room (4406)
The only illustrated manuscript of Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde--Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, MS 6--contains an elaborate frontispiece as well as 90 blanks spaces for images that were never produced. These blank spaces paradoxically represent an intertextual and even inter-visual dialogue with the matter of Troy in the tradition of universal history known as the Histoire ancienne jusq’à César. Situating Chaucer’s Troilus in relation to the pan-European dissemination of the matter of Troy in the Histoire ancienne illustrates the resilient materiality of the book as artefact, the non-human agent responsible for the survival and itineraries of pre-modern texts.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Worm, Snake, or Dragon?
A Lexical Landscape of the Beowulf Manuscript
Haruko Momma (NYU University)
Feb 5 2016
7:30pm
CUNY Graduate Center
365 5th Ave (btw 34th and 35th Streets)
English Studies Conference Room (4406)

This talk considers the cultural ecology of the Beowulf Manuscript through a lexical study.  The texts contained in this codex come in different forms, ranging from an original poem (Beowulf) to a verse adaptation of a biblical narrative (Judith) to renditions of Latin prose with varying degrees of intervention from the translators; these texts also take place in different geographical locations, including India (The Letter of Alexander to Aristotle), Samos (The Passion of Saint Christopher), and, roughly speaking, the eastern part of the Mediterranean world (The Wonders of the East).  Despite their diversity, these texts are believed by many critics to have been anthologized because of their shared theme of the “monstrous.”  In this talk, I will take a new approach to this issue by examining the semantic range of a certain lexeme as it is used in the manuscript.  The word in question is wyrm, which, rather mysteriously, signifies 'worm', 'snake', and 'dragon', and which refers to diverse animals in the manuscript.  Because of a specific register of this polysemous word, which seems closely connected with its etymology, the distribution and the use of wyrm sheds light on the nature of the manuscript and also of the individual texts therein. This exercise encourages us not only to re-open the age-old question of the pagan-Christian relationship in Beowulf, but also to address the question of the representation of nature in Anglo-Saxon literature.  I will end this talk with a speculation on one of the origins of “realism” in English-language literature.

Monday, November 30, 2015


The Raw and the Wrought
The Persistence of Matter in Medieval Art  
December 4 2015
The Rossell Hope Robbins Lecture
Anne Harris, DePauw University
7:30pm
CUNY Graduate Center
365 5th Ave (btw 34th and 35th Streets)
English Studies Conference Room (4406)


Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Boys on the Beach:
Children's Games and Baptismal Grace in the Middle Ages.
October 9 2015 
7:30pm
English Common Room 4406
CUNY Graduate Center

    
Professor Emerita, Department of History, Oberlin College 

While medieval Christians firmly agreed that baptism was a sacrament of necessity, there was considerable disagreement on what makes a baptism a valid sacrament.  One such debate was triggered by conflicting responses to a passage in Rufinus of Aquileia's Ecclesiastical History in which Alexander, bishop of Alexandria, validates the playful baptism of boys on the beach by the child Athanasius, his own protégé and successor.  Up through ca. 1300, thinkers who cited Rufinus, often in selective and garbled form, used him as a template for their appropriation of their other key  authority, Augustine's De baptismo, and framed their solutions in the light of a range of arguments on different issues.  They reached no consensus on the question itself, reflecting a larger medieval reality often lost sight of by proponents of the rise of a persecuting society in the Middle Ages:  the acceptability, within the medieval orthodox Christian consensus, of more than one position on a fundamental theological doctrine. 

co-sponsored with Friends of the Saints