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IMC 2023: Sessions

Session 218: Acting Like a (Noble) Lady: Lives, Literacy, and Literary Agency

Monday 3 July 2023, 14.15-15.45

Moderator/Chair:Rachel Stone, Department of History, King's College London / Learning Resources and Service Excellence, University of Bedfordshire
Paper 218-aNoblewomen and Their Reading in 5th-Century Europe
(Language: English)
Michael Hanaghan, Institute for Religion & Critical Inquiry, Australian Catholic University, Melbourne
Index terms: Gender Studies, Language and Literature - Latin, Women's Studies
Paper 218-bA Literary Hint at the Reading of Agnes and Radegund of Poitiers: Echoes of Martianus Capella in Venantius Fortunatus' De Virginitate
(Language: English)
Benjamin Wheaton, Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto, Mississauga
Index terms: Gender Studies, Language and Literature - Latin, Learning (The Classical Inheritance), Monasticism
Paper 218-cA Study in Late Medieval Queenship: French Queens' Literary Agency
(Language: English)
Sofya Nikiforova, Centre for History, University of the Highlands & Islands
Index terms: Daily Life, Language and Literature - Other, Women's Studies

Paper -a:
This paper examines the phenomenon of 5th century noblewomen as readers, focusing on three case studies: Aproniana, a confidant of Rufinus of Aquileia and the addressee of his translation of Sextus' Sententiae; Ragnahilda, the Visigothic Queen; and Papianilla, the daughter of the Emperor Avitus and wife of Sidonius Apollinaris. It explores how authors like Sidonius and Rufinus drew attention to these prominent noblewomen as public readers or addressees, and by doing, gendered their model reader in a variety of ways, as an influential figure in the Visigothic court (Ragnahilda), a highly intelligent and witty conversation partner (Aproniana), or a well-connected aristocrat in her own right (Papianilla). By demonstrating the importance of reading to the performance of doctrina - arguably the most important cultural marker of elite status in the 5th century - this paper links these figures' reading to their noble status, a status that both confirms and is confirmed by the status of each author.

Paper -b:
The 400-line poem De Virginitate, by the poet Venantius Fortunatus, was written in the late 560s or early 570s in Merovingian Gaul, probably for the occasion of the installation of the first abbess of Radegund of Poitiers' Holy Cross convent, Agnes. Its many literary allusions hint at the education and reading of Agnes and Radegund. The De Virginitate was addressed to Agnes, presumably commissioned by her or Radegund, and therefore would have been tailored to appeal to their literary sensibilities. One of the most interesting literary echoes is one that has not yet been noted: the De Nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii of the 5th-century African author Martianus Capella. A popular textbook in the Early Middle Ages, its mythological framing story, where Lady Philology marries the god Mercury, was sometimes excised to spare tender Christian ears. However, in the De Virginitate Fortunatus composes a scene located before the heavenly court that is strikingly similar to a scene in the De Nuptiis, and that has no parallels elsewhere. What this indicates at the least is that Fortunatus was familiar with the entire work of Martianus Capella; but it also suggests that Agnes and Radegund were as well.

Paper -c:
Gerda Lerner famously advised against writing women's compensatory history which is a history of exceptional female contributions to different historically male-dominated domains of life, including culture, politics, religion, and so on. However, as for the studies of medieval queenship, the scholarly landscape largely remains stuck within the paradigm of producing contributions history. In this article it is proposed to look at medieval French queens as a socio-cultural and political group of consistent agents who managed to exercise their agency via literary tools throughout Late Middle Ages, despite widespread misogyny which women faced in almost every part of their lives. The following definition of literary agency is suggested in this article: literary agency is the capacity of individuals to exert power and influence and/or to fulfill their goals or desires via literary practices, including epistolarity, book owning, patronage of literature, and reading. These practices are examined in the article using the methods of case studies and discourse analysis. I analyze a considerable number of French late medieval queens in relation to whom literary evidence were preserved, including, for example, Isabeau of Bavaria who was the patroness of Christine de Pisan, and Joan the Lame, a book collector and the initiator of some important translations from Latin to vernacular.