E 891 dl: Medieval Latin Authors



This syllabus is subject to change. The latest version on this website is the binding syllabus.

Office: Bartlett 259
Office Hours: Wed and by appointment.
545-6598 | sharris at english.umass.edu

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W 4:00 pm - 6:30 pm

WEEK 10: Saints' Lives
25 March

One of the major genres of medieval Latin is the vita of the saint. We will concetrate on two English saints. But we will read some others so that the conventions of the genre become clear.

Our main questions will concern genre and transformation. How do particular elements of a life contribute to a reader's spiritual/intellectual transformation? In other words, what plot elements are necessary to achieve an appropriate response? This raises the larger question of the effect narrative has on a reader's self-perception.

Correlatively, what do variants tell us about local concerns? How do authors manage the tension between the generic saint, applicable to the universal church, and the local saint? Correlatively, how do we recognize types or figures in portraits of specific people? What elements individuate a type (or stereotype)?

Also, how do the metaphors and images an author uses contribute to our notion of literary individuality—that a character is somehow a representation of a distinct person?


1) Henry of Avranches, Life of Guthlac & Life of Edmund

2) Life of Saint Anthony by Athanasius

3) Browse in The Little Flowers of St. Francis, trans. Thomas Arnold (1908)

4) Browse in Butler's Lives of the Saints (London, 1815), vol. 6; esp. St. Alban (June 22, p. 309), and St. Etheldreda/Audrey (June 23, p. 318);

An interesting biography and assessment of Henry of Avranches: Russell in Speculum 3 (1928), pp. 34-63/