IMC 2005: Sessions

Session 317: Interactions between the Elders and their Younger in Middle English Literature

Monday 11 July 2005, 16.30-18.00

Moderator/Chair:Rosanne Gasse, Department of English, Brandon University, Manitoba
Paper 317-aSuffocating Fathers and Tolerating Daughters: Power, Sacrifice, and the Disease of Virgins
(Language: English)
María José Carrillo Linares, Departamento de Filología Inglesa, Universidad de Huelva
Index terms: Language and Literature - Middle English
Paper 317-cRobert Henryson's 'sad wyse men of age'
(Language: English)
Hope W. Johnston, Trinity College, University of Cambridge
Index terms: Language and Literature - Middle English, Learning (The Classical Inheritance), Literacy and Orality

Abstract a) Youth and age are opposite forces in most medieval works. Relationships between fathers and daughters represent this binomial force, like Chaucer’s Virginius and Virginia, who represent respectively old age authority and youth submission. This attitude is backed up by the ideas inherited from the Bible and the Church Fathers, for whom old age is knowledge, and by the traditional cultures for whom the old one performs the function of leader. However, the idea of power is shadowed by the religious concept of sacrifice which legitimates and supports the power-based relationships, and by the Christian idea of virginity which, similarly, serves as excuse for this type of paternal-filial bond.

Paper b) Chaucer’s Treatise on the Astrolabe offers contentious access to notions of ‘childhood’ circa 1391 (the agreed date of composition). The text draws together familial, mathematical, pedagogical and academic modes of address focused on the figure of ‘lytyl lewys.’ This paper makes an argument for a representation of childhood that is both figurative and literal; depending, in part, upon the manuscript in question. The Treatise may offer us a unique moment of disclose from the ‘father of English poetry’ addressed to his ‘son.’

Paper c) Robert Henryson’s major narrative poems contemplate youth, age and the acquisition of wisdom in an uncertain world. Orpheus appeals repeatedly to his elders for guidance, yet they offer the musician only silence, consigning Orpheus to learn from first-hand experience instead. Could the ‘sad wyse men of age’ have altered the course of the narrative? The Testament of Cresseid suggests both yes and no. My paper will contrast the treatment of mortality in the two narratives, drawing conclusions from lessons directed to the young and old alike.