IMC 2017: Sessions

Session 723: Perceptions of Other Religions, III: Pagans and Saracens as 'Other' in Medieval Literature

Tuesday 4 July 2017, 14.15-15.45

Moderator/Chair:Zoë Eve Enstone, Lifelong Learning Centre, University of Leeds
Paper 723-aAssimilating the Other: Heroic Heathens in Malory's Morte Darthur and Other Prose Romances
(Language: English)
David Stuart Mason, School of English, Communication & Philosophy, Cardiff University
Index terms: Crusades, Language and Literature - Middle English, Printing History
Paper 723-b'Schonet der gotes hantgetat': Protecting the Heathen Other in Wolfram's Willehalm
(Language: English)
John Greenfield, Centro de Investigação Transdisciplinar 'Cultura, Espaço e Memória' (CITCEM), Universidade do Porto
Index terms: Crusades, Language and Literature - German
Paper 723-cTesting 'Treweth': Defining Treason and the Political Body in King Horn and The Erle of Tolous
(Language: English)
Maia Farrar, Department of English Language & Literature, University of Michigan
Index terms: Language and Literature - Middle English, Political Thought, Politics and Diplomacy, Social History
Abstract

Paper -a:
Although the central focus of Malory’s Morte Darthur is insular, it looks beyond England in ways that resonate with the understudied English prose romances alongside which it is printed. Reading Malory alongside texts such as Charles the Grete and Paris and Vienne illuminates late 15th-century English concerns with encountering the non-Christian East. While the crusading knights of medieval English literature often encounter heroic Saracen ‘others’ in single combat, the late prose romances distinctively focus not on beheading those opponents but assimilating them once defeated. This paper considers how this mode of assimilating the Other blurs religious binaries and offers late 15th-century English readers an intimate vision of the Eastern Other, and a chance to consider their own identity against it.

Paper -b:
In Wolfram’s major narrative works, Parzival and Willehalm, the heathens play both harmonious and disharmonious roles. In Parzival, the protagonist’s half-brother, Feirefiz, is a convert to Christianity whose son, Prester John, is destined to spread God’s word in the East. However, in Willehalm, the protagonist’s formerly heathen wife, Gyburc, herself triggers a conflict between Christians and heathens. Towards the end of that work Gyburc pleads with the Christian warriors to protect God’s ‘hantgetat’ in battle. My paper intends to discuss how the multifaceted concept of ‘gotes hantgetat’ should be seen as part of Wolfram’s (dis-?) harmonised view of the heathen other.

Paper -c:
The Saracen ‘Other’ serves as an easy scapegoat in King Horn to displace and test the sovereignty of the hero. However, as scholarship has noted, the historically fictional Saracen others in this text serve as a convenient external displacement of internal tensions – making them more comfortable and legible to the audience. However, I argue that the text suggests these internal divisions offer productive guidance and conflict to the body politic rather than a threat. The political ‘ryght’ championed by the Horn’s and The Erle of Tolous’s liminal stewards suggests that political and religious legitimacy may reside more with the court’s traitors than with the political body’s center. The proto-stewards – figures who champion and compete against the governance of the protagonist – provide political voices and virtues the sovereign is missing. These dissonant conceptions of legitimacy suggest that effective leadership relies on a system of power rather than an individual – a system which requires and thrives off the competing voices of political, religious, and social ‘others’.

The real ideological and political threat lies within Horn‘s (and England’s) community, as the steward Athelbrus and Horn‘s companions Athulf and Fikenhild demonstrate. While Horn pays particular attention to the ideal strength and inherent ‘trewthe’ (or moral voice) of our hero, his success is only possible through the competing figures of the faithful Athelbrus or Athulf and the treasonous Fikenhild, offering the political body as a competitive and ambiguously defined space. The Erle of Tolous’s similarly attentive treatment to the complexities of the simultaneously ‘treasonous’ and heroic steward underscores the competing notions of the political community. The Earl Barnard is mistreated by Diocletian, defeats him in battle, has a short romance with the Emperor’s wife, and yet ultimately returns to become the emperor’s steward and successor as a reward. This paper argues that conflicted stewardship and internal ‘otherness’ in both texts posit divisions as something salutary to the political body rather than merely threatening.