The World, the Flesh, and the Devil: Introduction to Medieval Literature


Instructor: Dr. Ethan Guagliardo | | Office Hours: Slack and by Zoom appt | Hours: TFF 756 | 

This class will introduce you to the history, ideas, and literature of the so-called “Middle Ages” between classical antiquity and modernity. This period was in many ways a pre-eminently Christian age, but we will pay particular attention to the ways that Christian theological preoccupations–especially its apparently world-denying theology of sin–paradoxically laid the groundwork for secularity, whether conceived in terms of space (the world and worldliness) or time (life-span or saeculum).


Essays: 45%  |  Slack Discussion: 20%  |  Short Assignments: 20%  |  Participation: 15%

Essays: Three essays, 3-4 pages, each worth 15%. The goal of these assignments is for you to learn how to use textual evidence in a written paper, to practice doing close readings of literary texts, and to begin learning how to make arguments through textual evidence. In other words, papers are not “book reports” but training exercises in thinking with literature, and paying close (and often critical) attention to how literature makes us feel and think. Writing papers can be intimidating. Please be aware that it is intimidating for everyone, including experienced scholars (like me)! But it’s not magic; it’s simply a matter of learning to play the rules of the game. My goal for the semester is for you to become better players.

Slack Discussion: Before roughly half of our classes, I will pose a question about the readings for you to think about and discuss as a class on our #DiscussionBoard slack page. I will ask a quarter of the class to post hot takes on the question: the idea is that you will formulate your opinion without looking at other responses. The rest of the class will respond to these takes, respond to the responses, and so on. I ask that you make one response at minimum, but I encourage anyone who wishes to treat this as an ongoing conversation (think reddit, or twitter, in a good way). You aren’t therefore limited to one response. Please try, however, to keep a certain decorum and not dominate the discussion: if you find that you are *always* having the last word, let someone else have it!

Short Assignments: I will assign a number of short assignments throughout the semester that will prompt you to think about the readings in ways beyond the formal essay. These will be about one page, but they may involve other media, like audio.

Participation: Are you actively engaged in class? Are you asking questions, offering your own readings of texts, thoughts, etc.? The participation grade will assess that dimension of classroom/slack performance. Attendance is of course a necessary feature of participation, although not sufficient!

Distance-learning policies

Zoom policy: Although I will on occasion record “instructional videos” for assignments, zoom sessions will be “synchronous”–live and in-person. In my view this is the best way to imitate the classroom environment as closely as possible. At the beginning of every session (including after the break in a two hour session), I ask that you mark yourself as present in the text box. Although your microphones will be muted, you may unmute at any time to ask a question or answer a question of mine. If you are anxious about speaking up, or simply find that it’s more efficient, you may also ask/answer questions in the text box. I will read out the question and try to answer it as soon as possible. In order to be counted as present, I ask that you keep your cameras on. You may of course dress as you wish, or eat or smoke during class; you should be comfortable in your own home. Please let me know if you will need to keep your camera off for some reason or another.

Slack/office hours policy: I consider our class slack channel to be an open-ended “office hour.” There you may ask questions pertaining to class or life, engage other students, bring in material you find on the internet that you think would of interest to me or the class, etc. I only ask that you keep discussions thoughtful and respectful (it goes without saying that personal attacks will not be tolerated, and I would ask that you refrain from making personal observations about fellow classmates or me). You may personally message me at any time, although I will try to refrain as a rule from answering messages and emails over the weekend.

Late work policy: Although the pictures of hellish torment behind my desk might lead you to believe otherwise, I am not in fact a sadist, and have always accommodated reasonable requests for extensions. This is all the more true in the time of COVID. I only ask that you do not inform me at the last minute, unless there really is an emergency (my basic rule is this: please inform me that you need an extension at least 24 hours ahead of time. We will work together to find a new due date that works better, no questions asked, with no loss of points. I know this is impossible in some situations, and that’s OK; I have full confidence that you will handle my relatively lax late work policy responsibly).  

Weekly Schedule

Week 1: The End of Antiquity and the Beginning of Flesh and  World
Friday: Introduction: The Conversion of Constantine, from Eusebius’s Oration to Constantine; The Edict of Milan; The Nicene Creed; The Codex Theodosianus (selections). Optional: Zosimus, from Historia Nova; Letter of Pope Gelasius to Anastatius Augustus

Week 2 
Tuesday: Augustine, Confessions, Book 1, 1.1-8.13. Optional: Augustine, The City of God against the Pagans, Bk 19;; Tertullian, “On Pagan Learning”; Clement of Alexandria, from Exhortation to the Heathen

Friday: Augustine, Confessions, Book 2, 1.1-10.18. 

Week 3 
Tuesday: Augustine, Confessions, Book 3, 1.1-10.18

Friday: Augustine, Confessions, Book 8

Week 4: The “High Middle Ages”, Viewed Otherwise
Tuesday: Augustine, Confessions, Book 10

Friday: Urban II and the Crusades, from The Chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres; from the  autobiography of Usmah Ibn Munqidh 

Week 5: Into Hell
Tuesday: Marie de France, Lanval; Optional: Chevrefoil

Friday: Fra Dolcino and the Spirituals; Julian of Norwich, from “A Book of Showings”

Essay 1 Due

Week 6: The Flesh 
Tuesday: Dante, Inferno, canto 1; Dante, “Letter to Cangrande”

Friday: Inferno, 1-3

Week 7: The World
Tuesday: Inferno, 4-5

Friday: Inferno, 6; 10-11

Week 8
Tuesday: Inferno, 13-15

Friday: Inferno, 19, 26-27

Week 9: The Devil
Tuesday: Inferno, 28; 32-34; Bertan de Born, “Be’m plai lo gais temps de pascor”

Friday: Inferno, 28; 32

Week 10: Exuberant Worldliness
Tuesday: Inferno, 33-34

Friday: Chaucer, General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales; Miller’s Tale (begin). 

Essay 2 Due

Week 11
Tuesday: Miller’s Tale (end)

Friday: Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale

Week 12
Tuesday: Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale

Friday: Pardoner’s Tale

Week 13 Note: these weeks are provisional depending on how quickly we can cover the material in online sessions. 

Tuesday: Pardoner’s Tale (Prioress’s Tale if time)

Friday: Prioress’s Tale (if time); Nun’s Priest’s Tale (if time)

Week 14
Tuesday: Nun’s Priest’s Tale (if time); Chaucer’s Retraction (if time)

Essay 3 Due

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