Thursday, 26 May 2011

Mike Hodder on Petrarch's "Triumphs"

Text and image: the allegorisation of Petrarch's "Triumphs"

Mike Hodder (Balliol College)

First came an explanation of the structure of the Triumphs as a series of six visions. Next, that of the popularity of the work, which outstripped that of the Commedia and the Canzoniere in its day, especially in the century-and-a-half following Petrarch's death. Written in terza rima, the Triumphs are often compared with the Commedia, but are in fact a polemical response to the medieval allegorical tradition loathed by Petrarch, an exemplar of which is the Roman de la rose. Furthermore, the Triumphs offer an intensely personal vision of love, chastity, death, fame, time and eternity, in which is it hard to read the everyman, as one might in Dante's most famous work.

Discussion then moved on to the Petrarchan themes of the false immortality promised by literary fame, the ravages of time, and the dialogue between the poet and his heart. The quality of the poetic narrator as fairly static was highlighted and an exposition of the exegetical history of the work begun. Such a history would seem to be divided by those seeking to interpret the Triumphs allegorically, despite Petrarch's anti-allegorical stance, and those of a more humanist bent, like Petrarch himself. Intriguingly, it would seem that the visual culture linked with the Triumphs has greatly contributed to the prominence of an allegorical reading of the text; a European legacy that includes wood panels, engravings, tapestries (such as those at Hampton Court Palace), and paintings.

A rich discussion followed of the images brought to the seminar and their implications for our reading of the Triumphs. There was then a lengthy discussion on further matters of interest such as the theology, classicism, historicism, and manuscript culture of the text.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Jennifer Norris on "Cantigas de Santa María"

"Pero que seja d’outra lee en creença": Jewish and Moorish Women in the «Cantigas de Santa María» of Alfonso X

Jennifer Norris (MSt in Spanish, Lincoln College)

The I3MS would like to thank Jennifer Norris for volunteering to be the first speaker of the term, as we know it was her first public speech as a graduate. In addition, we would like to congratulate her for having been awarded a Clarendon Fund Scholarship.

In first place, Jennifer introduced the concept of "cantiga" and made a quick review on the history of the "Cantigas de Santa María", including a brief explanation on their structure and her main interest points on the topic, such as the castilianisation of the narrative or its adaptation to current political and social issues. With regard to the latter, Jennifer highlighted how the percentage of compositions featuring a Jewish character corresponded approximately to the percentage of the population that was actually Jewish at that moment, so that there seems to exist a desire to reflect a demographical and social reality, as these statistics apply to Moslem characters too. As Jennifer stated, this served to show the influence of the Virgin in every sector of society, minorities included.

Among the "cantigas" presenting characters belonging to any of the above-mentioned religious minorities, eight are about women: four Jewish and for Moslem. All of them have their own counterpart story or stories featuring Christian protagonists and they are not different in essence. These "cantigas" show familiarity with the members of the religious minorities, a good knowledge of their customs and viceversa; they show that the Jews and the Moslems knew Christians and Christian customs well. However, their different faith offered the chance to make that an essential part of the plot, therefore some of the stories deal with challenges to the Virgin, desperate requests to Mary in desperate situations and promises/bets; all of them ending with the conversion of the protagonist. The above notwithstanding, not every "cantiga" of this kind ends with a conversion, but some of the characters keep loyal to their faith. In these cases, the moral of the "cantiga" is that the Virgin, in her infinite pity for the troubled, is accessible to the believers as well as to the non-believers; to women as well as men; to the rich as well as to the poor, because She is the Mother of all of them and she does not discriminate or ask for anything in exchage but honest gratitude.

Unfortunately, there was not enough time for questions after having looked into detail most of the eight selected "cantigas", therefore, if there is anything you would like to ask Jennifer, you can use the comments section below or put your questions directly to her in the next session of I3MS.
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