Western Literature to Dante II

Bruce A. McMenomy, Ph.D.
for Scholars Online
2021-22: Tuesdays, 11:00 A.M. - 12:30 P.M. Eastern time

Overview    Materials    Schedule

Schedule of reading and discussion assignments (listed by week)

1. Tue, Sep 7, 2021

Introductory Matters.

How we will proceed.

2. Tue, Sep 14, 2021

Homeric Hymns, ps.-Homer, Batrachomyomachia, Hesiod, Theogony (selections).

This is the other part of the Homeric tradition, as it formed up late in the ancient world, and it contains some very interesting material.

The so-called Homeric Hymns are certainly not Homeric in origin, but they are hymns, they’re in dactylic hexameter (Homer’s meter), and they’re fairly old — probably from the seventh and sixth centuries B.C. They are addressed to various of the gods, and are sources for some of the earliest mythography we have. Some are fairly long, while others are quite short; the most interesting of them have an intriguing mixture of explanatory and narrative content. The Homeric Hymns are available here. There is also a reasonably inexpensive edition published by Penguin Classics, available here at Amazon, and a range of translations by various scholars. Read a few of them, but make sure you’ve covered the Hymn to Hermes: we’ll concentrate on that.

The pseudo-Homeric Batrachomyomachia (Battle of the Mice and Frogs) is a mock epic, and hilarious, though the subtext is somewhat more serious. It’s also not Homer, surely, and of indeterminate antiquity. Some think it is very old, while others believe that it is a Hellenistic parody. It is found here on the Internet Sacred Text Archive site, and here on the Online Medieval and Classical Library site.

Hesiod is the other major author of surviving archaic Greek hexameters; whether to call them epic, didactic, something else is a bit of a problem, but his material is oddly ambivalent, much more constrained by a self-conscious narrative voice than Homer’s, and the opening sections are laced with ironic reflections on truth and falsehood. It forms a useful point of comparison with Homer, but also connects to Apollonius, Pindar, and others. The Theogony is available here on the Perseus site, and here on the Online Medieval and Classical Library site.

3. Tue, Sep 21, 2021

Greek lyric, selections

Probably the best (and easiest) way to read this material is to get hold of the slim Richmond Lattimore volume entitled Greek Lyrics. The book is fairly widely distributed, and can also be found at Amazon here, both new and used. Go ahead and read the whole book: it’s not terribly long (less than 100 pages with its surrounding annotation and introductions), and it will allow us substantial material to discuss. Give special attention, however, to the poems of Archilochus, Sappho, Alcaeus, Tyrtaeus, Pindar, and Bacchylides.

Archilochus of Paros (Ἀρχίλοχος, ca. 680 - ca. 645 BC) was one of the first great lyric poets; the stories of his life are vastly embroidered. It is said (with very little evidentiary support) that his iambics were of such stinging potency that he drove his fellow-citizen Lycambes and his daughters to hang themselves. Whether there is any truth to this story or not, what we have surviving of Archilochus is good strong poetry, and colored with a very energetic narrative persona that is not above a certain amount of self-mockery. He flouts the canonical advice “Come back with your shield or on it” in a particularly droll little poem, which Lattimore numbers 3.

Sappho (Σαπφώ in Attic; Ψάπφω in Aeolic, ca. 630/615 - ca. 570 B.C.) and Alcaeus (Ἀλκαῖος ca. 620 B.C. - ?) are Aeolic poets from Mytilene (Lesbos), and they are commonly regarded as among the greatest poetic voices of the ancient world. Sappho became the model for Catullus’ “Lesbia” (probably his private name for Clodia, though we cannot be entirely sure). They cover a wide range of situations and emotional content, and their characteristic dialect (devoid of initial rough breathings, among other things) recalls some very old patterns in the history of Indo-European poetry.

Tyrtaeus (Τυρταῖος, fl. ca. 650 B.C.) was a Spartan elegiac poet (though perhaps a transplant from Athens) . He brought many different strands together, but largely he seems to have concerned himself with inspiring civic virtue and martial bravery. These works bear comparison both with the Odes of Pindar and Bacchylides that follow, and the more hortatory Roman writing one finds in Livy and Cicero.

Pindar (Πίνδαρος, ca. 522-443 B.C.) and Bacchylides (Βακχυλίδης, ca. 500 - ca. 450 B.C.?) were writing choral lyric, which is something slightly different from the personal lyrics that came to be recognized as normative later, but they are hugely important in the background of the Greek mind and specifically the growth of drama. Come to class with a few observations about your favorites, and be ready to share them.

Those who are studying Latin lyric here or anywhere else might be interested to compare Sappho’s number 2 (on Lattimore’s numbering) with Catullus’ C. 51, which is a very deliberate translation of Sappho’s poem into specifically Sapphic meter:

Ille mi par esse deo videtur,
ille, si fas est, superare divos,
qui sedens adversus identidem te
      spectat et audit

dulce ridentem, misero quod omnis
eripit sensus mihi: nam simul te,
Lesbia, aspexi, nihil est super mi
      * * * * * * * *

lingua sed torpet, tenuis sub artus
flamma demanat, sonitu suopte
tintinant aures gemina, teguntur
      lumina nocte.

otium, Catulle, tibi molestum est:
otio exsultas nimiumque gestis:
otium et reges prius et beatas
      perdidit urbes.

As always with this material, bear in mind that these are translations. Lattimore was one of the great translators; here he put some of his best work into creating versions that emulate the original meters quite well. Anyone who has some Greek can get in touch with me and I’ll provide a few comparison samples in Greek. But no translation, no matter how good, will quite capture the essence of the original.

4. Tue, Sep 28, 2021

Sophocles and Euripides: Electra and Electra.

This seems useful both as a study of how two poets have handled the same story, and also as a background to the theme of dueling dramatists that will arise next week in Aristophanes’ Frogs. Sophocles’ Electra can be found here on the Perseus site, and Euripides’ Electra can be found alongide it here. They are also available in various translations and editions, the best of them perhaps being the versions found in the Lattimore/Grene collections of the complete Greek tragedies.

The underlying story should be familiar to all of you through Western Literature to Dante: Electra is the daughter of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon; she has stayed at home, while her sister Iphigenia has been sacrificed and her father goes off to spend ten years at war. She sees Clytemnestra taking a lover (Aegisthus) and her brother Orestes depart. While she remains firmly loyal to her father, when he returns to be slaughtered by Clytemnestra or Aegisthus, she can do nothing. She settles in to mourn Agamemnon for some considerable time, and eventually Orestes returns to avenge his father. These two plays hence cover much the same material as The Libation Bearers (the Choephoroi) of Aeschylus, but they are to a much greater extent centered on, and driven by, character.

Accordingly, I’d like to examine these two plays for their similarities and their differences. How do they reflect (or not) the themes we identified in Aeschylus’ play? Is there the same kind of overt opposition of chthonic and uranic forces? What kind of symbolism enters the diction? What kind of job do they do in characterizing their main characters — both Electra and Clytemnestra?

5. Tue, Oct 5, 2021

Aristophanes, Frogs.
Menander, Dyskolos.

One can find the Frogs — a very amusing battle of poetic wit between Aeschylus and Euripides, supervised by Dionysus himself — on Perseus here, or for sale on Amazon here.

The Dyskolos (The Grouch), is available in a readable version online (though the page layout could use a little work) here at Fairfield, translated by Vincent J. Rosivach, or in a Penguin edition available here from Amazon.

Aristophanes was part of the Athenian tradition known (now) as “Old Comedy”. It tended to be quick, acidic satire — politically topical and often rather crude (though “The Frogs” is less so than most of the others). It names names, talks about contemporary political events, and attacks political figures. The closest modern analogy would probably be Saturday Night Live on television.

Those who want to stray a little way from the beaten path may find Stephen Sondheim’s musical version intriguing as well. A few things get changed around (e.g., Euripides becomes Shaw, and Aeschylus becomes Shakespeare), but otherwise it’s remarkably faithful to the tone of the original.

Old Comedy is distinguished (unsurprisingly) from New Comedy, which is much more like our situation comedy. The characters are generic, and the issues tend to arise from stock situations rather than from contemporary events. The Dyskolos is the only surviving (mostly) complete Greek New Comedy, and even it only became available in 1958, after enough of it had been recovered from an archaeological dig in Egypt to constitute a text. But even through most of Greek New Comedy is lost and hence nearly invisible, we can get a sense of its mass and gravitational pull much as an astronomer can divine the mass of a hidden body by the perturbation of the orbits of surrounding bodies. In this case, we can observe it through the Roman comedy of Plautus and Terence, and we’ll be reading some examples of that around the beginning of November.

I’d like to talk about what makes comedy work (or not) and some of the ancient notions of comedy. We’ll be returning to this shortly when we come to deal with Plautus and Terence.

6. Tue, Oct 12, 2021

Plato, Timaeus

A Platonic dialogue very different from any other, this explores the nature of the created universe. It is more of a treatise than a dialogue; it is also one of the few pieces of Plato to find a place in the early Mediaeval world-view. It can be found here on Perseus, here on the MIT Classics Archive in an older translation, for sale on Amazon, or in any complete collection of Plato, such as the Hamilton-Cairns collection here at Amazon (which should be available at a public library) or the newer Cooper-Hutchinson collection found here at Amazon (avalable at some libraries, but almost certainly not as many).

The dialogue is one of the later works of Plato, and almost certainly doesn’t describe an actual dialogue in which Socrates was involved. Narratively it’s set the day after the Republic, and is the most complete elaboration of Platonic metaphysics. The world and everything in it is an outflowing of a perfect and unknowable god, whose self-knowledge is so perfect and complete that he doesn’t have any awareness of the world. The actual world (envisioned as a living creature) is fashioned from necessity (Greek ἀνάγκη) by a demiurge (δημιουργός) — a divine craftsman; unlike the supreme god, however, the demiurge is not omnipotent, and hence derive the imperfections of the world, including sickness and moral evil.

7. Tue, Oct 19, 2021

Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica

Here you have a wider range of options. This is Hellenistic epic, and probably you will want a copy of some sort that you can hold in your hands and read. There are a number of published editions, the most accessible one being the Penguin Classics version here listed at Amazon. Nevertheless it is available here on the Classics Internet Archive if you don’t want to buy it. It’s available only in Greek on Perseus, but those who might get something out of that are welcome to take a look here.

The Argonautica was written during the Hellenistic era — that is, the period following the conquest of much of the known world by Alexander the Great. It’s from the wide sphere of global Hellenized (Greekified, you might say) rather than local Hellenic (genuinely Greek) culture, and it bears a lot of the characteristic marks. Apollonius (not really from Rhodes, though he apparently lived there at some point in his life) died at some point after 246 B.C.; the dates for his birth are quite uncertain. He may have been born during Alexander’s lifetime.

In Western Literature to Dante we talked about Catullus and Horace (and to some extent Vergil) as being part of the Callimachean tradition, which eschewed the production of epic or any other long forms. Callimachus (Καλλίμαχος, ca. 305 B.C.-240 B.C.) was writing at about the same time as Apollonius, and tradition suggests (rather more indirectly than one might like) that the two were rivals engaged in a vast poetic feud. There are some surviving verses in which someone named Apollonius (but maybe not the same one) mocks Callimachus, and some people believe that Callimachus’ poem Ibis is a polemic work directed against Apollonius. Whether there is any truth to these suggestions is uncertain and likely to remain so.

What is clear is that Apollonius was writing the kind of poetry that Callimachus in general objected to: he was producing epic, which Callimachus had declared to be impossible and now out of bounds. The category is fraught with difficulties of its own, however. The Argonautica is nowhere near as long as either of the leading Homeric epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey (though there is some reason to think that some of the other poems, now lost, that composed the so called “Homeric Cycle” were in fact shorter as well. It is about six thousand lines long — a little more than a third the length of the Iliad. What there is, however, is written in quasi-Homeric epic hexameters, and contains a number of the canonical Homeric moves, such as a handful of ecphrastic elaborations on physical props including (of course) one related to the Shield of Heracles. Take note of those, and try to consider for yourself how they differ from Homer’s handling of such things, and from Vergil’s. Certainly Apollonius’ diction tends not to be nearly as formulaic as Homer’s, and its tonality is much more colored by authorial intervention and intrusion. Though it appears on the surface to be a fairly simple adventure story of the quest for the Golden Fleece and the heroes of the Argo, it is infused with a dark tonality that is more reminiscent of Vergil than anything one is likely to find in Homer (and this for the obvious reason that Vergil clearly drew some of his inspiration from Apollonius).

In the long run, reading this poem may leave you with more questions than answers, but it is an intriguing and nuanced piece of work that tends to round out our perception of the complexities of ancient literary culture, even as it confounds our simple categorizations.

8. Tue, Oct 26, 2021

Plautus, Menaechmi, Amphitruo

Plautus, like Terence (whom we’ll encounter next week) is one of the two early Roman poet-dramatists. He is the older of the two, and was praised by Caesar for his vis comica — his “comic force”. He could be tirelessly funny, even though sometimes his plots are labored and his characterization all but non-existent. Plautus is writing in the tradition of Greek New Comedy, and indeed most of the Roman comedies were in fact both set in Greece and translated from Greek originals (all of which, with the exception of Menander’s Dyskolos, are now lost).

Here we will read one of Plautus’s most conventional comedies (the Menaechmi), which is a slapstick farce about two pairs of twin brothers. It served as the model for Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors and the later Rodgers and Hart musical based on it in turn, The Boys from Syracuse. The second title, however (the Amphitruo) is probably the most unusual of Plautus’s comedies, and (unlike most Roman comedies) it brings the gods onstage (Jupiter and Mercury, specifically) in the episode that involves the begetting of Hercules. Again there are issues of mistaken identity: Jupiter has disguised himself as Alcumena’s husband Amphitruo (Amphitryon in the Greek) in order to deceive her. It is probably at least partly adapted from the Alcmene of Euripides — which of course suggests an ultimate source in Greek tragedy rather than comedy. Its afterlife has been peculiar: it was not adapted by Shakespeare for anything, but it did become the basis of Cole Porter’s less than smashingly successful Out of This World. For those who want a taste of what Roman-style New Comedy would have been in performance, one of the better options is the mid-1960s film A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. It's farcical, a bit suggestive though not overtly crude, and brilliantly performed. Of course the modern songs by Stephen Sondheim are not ancient music.

9. Tue, Nov 2, 2021

Terence, Adelphoe, Hecyra

The most idiomatic translation of these two is probably the Penguin Classics version by Betty Radice. There are a variety of translations available, though, including some on the web. The easiest to find are probably the ones at the Perseus Project: Adelphoe and Hecyra. Both plays include some rather shocking behavior, as well as some (I think) rather ingenious and compelling human drama; take them as they come, as documents of their times.

10. Tue, Nov 9, 2021

Cicero, Republic: The Somnium Scipionis.

The Somnium Scipionis is a concluding myth to Cicero’s Republic — crafted to echo the concluding myth in Plato’s Republic. Not surprisingly, it is an encomium to civic virtue, but it is also a description of the larger organization of the universe, and a meditation on the place of humanity in the larger scheme of things that verges on the mystical. It became very popular in late antiquity, and circulated as a separate piece of writing — such that while most of the rest of the Republic was lost, this enjoyed wide circulation. (A good deal of the Republic was eventually recovered much later by reading it through a palimpsest that contained one of Augustine’s works. But it was unknown for most of the Middle Ages.) As such it became one of the foundational documents in the mediaeval world-view, as is outlined somewhat in C. S. Lewis’s The Discarded Image. It’s also a remarkably engaging and strong piece of writing, and shows a side of Cicero we don’t often see. Here is one reasonably decent translation. There are others here and there. The Latin text of the Somnium can be found here at the Latin Library site, for those who want a little extra challenge (or maybe a lot — depending on the state of your Latin).

11. Tue, Nov 16, 2021

Statius, Thebaid, selections.

Given that we have about two weeks for this, you probably can actually manage to read most of the Thebaid. It’s a Silver Latin (early Imperial, but post-Augustan) piece of work, and highly ornamental, polished, and something to be set in contrast with both Vergil and Apollonius. Statius, as you will recall, was one of those furtive Christians who show up in Dante’s Purgatorio being punished for his lack of open commitment, but still regarded by Dante as one of the great poets of antiquity, and a visionary. His work has not perhaps worn as well as that of many others, but it is of singular importance during the Middle Ages, as Lewis mentions in The Discarded Image. It also is possibly the greatest of the Silver Latin epics, the only other real contender being the historical epic Pharsalia of Lucan.

There’s a reasonably accessible newer version of this poem out now, and you can get it at a reasonable price used. See the bookstore. There’s also one that’s part of the Oxford The World’s Classics series, but is now out of print. Until recently, the Thebaid was not available on the Web, but the 1928 Mozley translation has become available here at the Theoi site. It’s a bit stilted, but it’s free and reasonably accurate. The Latin text of the Thebaid can be found here at the Latin Library site, for those who want to have a look at the work of a later hexametric artist.

12. Tue, Nov 23, 2021

Statius, Thebaid, continued.

13. Tue, Nov 30, 2021

Einhard, Vita Caroli.

This is available in a reasonably good translation from Penguin Books, under the name Two Lives of Charlemagne, together with the collected and more anecdotal account of Notker the Stammerer. Einhard’s Vita is also available here as part of Fordham’s Medieval collection.

Consider Einhard’s purposes in writing this history. How does it compare with the historical writing of Herodotus and Thucydides?

14. Tue, Dec 7, 2021

Roswitha von Gandersheim, Dulcitius.

This remarkable tenth-century abbess wrote plays for the nuns of her order as a way of diverting them from the plays of Terence. They are modeled on Terence, therefore, but written to impart wholesome spiritual and moral lessons. Texts are becoming available online, but only a few have been prepared so far; among them is the Dulcitius available here at Fordham.

15. Tue, Dec 14, 2021

The Elder (Poetic) Edda.

Also known as the Edda Saemundar, attributed to Saemund the Wise, this is a motley collection of the oldest Germanic stories. Though written in Old Norse, and generally the product of Iceland, it includes the common stock of tales of Siegfried/Sigurd et al. that enter into the Volsunga Saga and Nibelungenlied. There are a number of translations available now; among the better are the Lee Hollander version, and the Patricia Terry version. A reasonably good edition by Henry Adams Bellows — though a little out of date — is also available online at the Sacred Texts site. Reading the whole collection is probably a little too diffuse: for this week concentrate on the early poems, esp. the Vǫluspá, the Hávamál, and the Grimnismál. These describe underlying pieces of the Nordic world-view and also give us more material on their pattern of hospitality, which we can compare against that suggested in scripture, Homer, and other later sources.

Those of us who are taking Old Norse can have a particularly good time with this, I think.

16. Tue, Jan 4, 2022

The Elder Edda, contd.

For this week, read the poems in the collection having to do with Helgi Hunding’s-bane, Sigurd, Högni and those other elements of the story that we have already seen in the Volsunga Saga and the Nibelungenlied.

17. Tue, Jan 11, 2022

The Younger Edda.

The Younger Edda is a collection of continuous prose retellings of basic Norse mythic material, and included a number of rather amusing variations, worth comparing with the other versions you’ve encountered. It is available online in the Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur translation at the Sacred Texts site here, but also can be found in print in the translation by Anthony Faulkes and also in the translation by Jean I. Young.

18. Tue, Jan 18, 2022

Bernardus Silvestris, Cosmographia.

The Winthrop Wetherbee version of Bernard, unavailable for some time, is now available in a reasonably-priced paperback version. Do attempt to get this in plenty of time: it’s useful for the background to not only the rest of the readings for the year, but to the discussion of C. S. Lewis’s The Discarded Image.

19. Tue, Jan 25, 2022

C. S. Lewis, The Discarded Image.

You should now have this book finished; let’s take a step back from our regular material to discuss it as a whole.

20. Tue, Feb 1, 2022

The Saga of Burnt Njál.

This is a colorful and lengthy saga, perhaps the most famous of all of the historical Icelandic sagas. It’s full of intriguing characters, bizarre sententiae, and a lively story line with action sequences that would do credit to any Hollywood production. The standard print version available today is found in the Penguin Classics collection (available at Amazon here); it is not one of the texts included in the collection entitled The Sagas of Icelanders — a matter about which I was previously confused. I hope nobody ordered that in hopes of getting it (the other things are still good). An older edition by George Webbe Dasent is available online at the Sacred Texts site or at Sunsite at U. C. Berkeley.

One of the intriguing ancillary benefits of reading Njál’s Saga is the fact that it details the coming of Christianity to Iceland, and the discussion that surrounded it and its adoption. It’s particularly worth comparing to the story related in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History (which many of you probably remember from English Literature, but if you haven’t read it, you can find it here at the Fordham Medieval Sourcebook; the most famous part is under the heading “The Conversion of Northumbria”). For those with a taste for it in Latin, you can find it here at the Latin Library).

21. Tue, Feb 8, 2022

The Saga of Burnt Njál, contd.

22. Tue, Feb 15, 2022

Beroul, Tristan.

The only easily available English version of this I know is the one from Penguin (available at Amazon here); bear in mind that this is only one of a number of Tristan retellings, and so it’s important to make sure you have this particular version. The story is a strongly visceral tale of the forbidden love of Tristan and Iseult, told without many of the cultivated additions that accumulated in later versions.

23. Tue, Feb 22, 2022

Marie de France, Lais.

Those who did World Literature will have encountered (and will probably recall) the little segment there called “Chevrefoil” (or “Honeysuckle”). Marie was a courtly lady of the twelfth century in France; her work is widely considered to be coterminous with the beginnings of the so-called “courtly love” traditions in Western Europe. Probably the most affordable and accessible hard-copy edition you can get will be that offered by Penguin (available at Amazon here); most of the work is also available online in a verse translation by Judith P. Shoaf at the University of Florida. The linked page contains links to a series of PDF files of the various poems. So that everyone can be tied into the same material, we’ll concentrate on those represented in the online edition, which includes the Prologue, “Equitan”, “Le Fresne”, “Bisclavret”, “Lanval”, “Yonec”, “Laustic”, “Chaitivel”, and “Chevrefoil”. If you find the jingly quality of the online translation too much to take (it’s fairly consistent with Marie’s original, to be fair) there is an older prose translation at the Gutenberg site: here.

24. Tue, Mar 1, 2022

Chrétien de Troyes, Perceval.

Once again, probably the most affordable and accessible hard-copy edition you can get will be that offered by Penguin (available at Amazon here); somewhat more tractable and easy to read is the recent David Staines translation (available at Amazon here). For reasons that have to do with the history of the Everyman Library, most online editions of Chrétien do not include the Perceval, though they include everything else. You should remember reading Chrétien’s “Yvain” in Western Literature to Dante. Any other edition you might have will certainly do.

25. Tue, Mar 8, 2022

Anon., The Quest of the Holy Grail.

This has always struck me as one of the most profoundly beautiful books I’ve ever read, and I never return to it without finding it electrifying. The last time I taught something like this course, the students felt the same way. It’s long; it’s leisurely; it doesn’t keep you on the edge of your seat, and it’s loaded with baldly unrepentent allegory at every turn — allegory that gets a full-dress explanatory treatment on each occasion, as well. Little is left to the imagination. The author falls repeatedly back on the same formulaic way of doing things. The landscape is fairly crowded with hermits, all of whom have a talent for explaining the significance of every little thing that life throws at our protagonists. For all that, though, it is oddly transforming and visionary. The most accessible commercial translation I know of the work is the Penguin (available at Amazon here) by Pauline Matarasso; the (older) translation by W. W. Comfort is available in PDF form for free at the York University site here and in hard copy at Amazon here. The Old French version can be acquired from Amazon.fr here, or online here if you’re really interested in something unusual.

Try to have the first half finished by class today.

26. Tue, Mar 15, 2022

Anon., The Quest of the Holy Grail.

The work is long; we’ll continue it for a second week.

27. Tue, Mar 22, 2022

Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival.

This work is based, apparently, on Chrétien’s Perceval, though there are ongoing debates as to how closely Wolfram meant to adhere to his source, and there is the further fact that his narrative is complete, whereas Chrétien’s is not. The book is twisty, and its narrative laden with a heavily ironic and self-conscious narrative voice, leaving a very different tone from the French work.

There are two main translations of this work available for the average reader. The older (and in a number of ways better, to my mind) version is by Helen M. Mustard and Charles E. Passage; it’s available at Amazon here. Newer, and uniform with his very solid translations of The Nibelungenlied and Tristan is A. T. Hatto’s Penguin Classics version available here through Amazon.

Try to have the first half finished by class today.

28. Tue, Mar 29, 2022

Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival, continued.

29. Tue, Apr 5, 2022

Gottfried von Strassburg, Tristan.

This is a curious poem. Written scarcely a generation after the Nibelungenlied, it bespeaks a completely different mental world. Gottfried’s outlook is sophisticated, sly, somewhat world-weary, and laden with irony. Nevertheless, it retains a certain sense of wonder through it all; the work bears comparison with the other versions of the Tristan story you’ve covered, and also with the other works of the German flowering of literature in the thirteenth century.

There is only one widely accessible translation of Gottfried’s Tristan that I know of; it’s also by A. T. Hatto, and can be found here through Amazon.

Try to have the first half finished by class today.

30. Tue, Apr 19, 2022

Gottfried von Strassburg, Tristan, continued.

31. Tue, Apr 26, 2022

Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meung, The Romance of the Rose.

This is probably the ultimate allegorical narrative of the Middle Ages (leaving the Divine Comedy in a class by itself); it is at once an elaborate erotic (no, not naughty) fantasy and a kind of encyclopedic look at everything in the full bloom of the mediaeval world-view.

There are a number of solid translations of the Romance of the Rose available; I personally favor the Dahlberg version listed here, though that’s based more on readability than anything else. It’s out of print, I believe, but there are a number of copies to be had at reasonable prices.

32. Tue, May 3, 2022

Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meung, The Romance of the Rose, continued.

33. Tue, May 10, 2022

Dante Alighieri, La Vita Nuova.

This is Dante’s autobiographical account of his infatuation with Beatrice. Those who did the first Western Literature to Dante already have the text in Mark Musa’s collection (here at Amazon, for what it’s worth); otherwise, the book can be found in Barbara Reynolds’ version in the Penguin Classics series available here at Amazon, or in Musa’s independent volume from Oxford here at Amazon. A free downloadable PDF version by A. S. Kline is available here, though I have not checked it for accuracy.

34. Tue, May 17, 2022

Francesco Petrarca, Rime.

This is Petrarch’s poetic collection, detailing his infatuation with Laura, who died in the Black Death of 1348. The collection is divided into the poems written during her life, and those written after her death.

Petrarch’s influence can scarcely be overestimated. He is, in many respects, the father of the sonnet form, whether he actually invented it himself or not — a matter of some debate, though more in point of definition than for lack of evidence. The earliest attributed sonnets are by Giacomo da Lentini (fl. ca. 1240), but the general opinion is that Petrarch actually perfected the form, and certainly his sonnets have been vastly more influential in and of themselves. The sonnets of the Rime (also called the Canzoniere) have been imitated, translated, permuted, and copied for generations; the English sonneteers of the sixteenth century were rooted in classical letters and in Petrarch.

The main translation available for the collection is the volume here at Amazon. It is unfortunately not cheap, but it’s probably available through a number of libraries, as well, though, since it really is the standard edition. As a bonus, it provides both the Italian and the English translation.

The full Italian text can be found online at the Petrarch Grotto here; an acceptably good translation by A. S. Kline, side by side with the Italian is to be found here.

35. Tue, May 24, 2022

Concluding matters.

Last Updated on 6/20/18 by Bruce A. McMenomy
Email: mcmenomy@dorthonion.com