Reading Medieval Literature is more than just something to do in your English class. This is the time period that our modern stories, and story telling ideals started to emerge. This is the exciting period of knights and dragons. This is the time period that Tolkien, and other great writers are so found of. Reading Medieval Literature is a great way to learn more about our own stories and histories. But there are some things you should know before diving in.
How To Start Reading Medieval Literature: Remember that it’s a Translation
Most of the Medieval stories you will read are going to be translated. This isn’t like Shakespeare, where eventually you learn to read his wording fluidly. A lot of old english looks, and basically is, a different language. This is important to understand, because translators hold a lot of power.
When you are reading a translation, a lot of the work’s original meaning can be lost. You need to remember this when reading Medieval literature. The translator’s own point of view can reshape how he translates the book. Often, lines are changed to fit that point of view. Once, in one of the chivalric romances I read, two translators wrote different endings. One was where the man rode off with the woman behind him, and the other translator reversed it (with the woman in front of the man). This may not seem like a big deal, but think about what those two endings imply. Whoever was in front was more important. So one translator was molding the text to be more masculine oriented, while the other was more feminine oriented. Just remember when you read a work, that there might be a different agenda at play.
How To Start Reading Medieval Literature: Get Familiar With the Culture
Do you know what an Althing is? Or how about mangjöld? Do you know what the Christian and Muslim relationship was like in Medieval Spain? These are all important cultural ideals that show up in Medieval Literature. They are also not explained (except in footnotes, which people barely read).
So take some time to look up the culture of the story you are about to read. Because, like our authors today, the authors of the 15th century never explain their current culture. It would seem weird to them to do so; it would seem weird for us to explain what an iphone is, or what the Republicans believe. So take some time on the internet, and do a little research. When I first read Grettir’s Saga ( medieval viking tale), I was utterly lost. The complex legal system of the time is utterly confusing. And all the names sounded the same. What helped me get through the book, and enjoy it, where the small articles a professor gave me on Icelandic culture at the time. It made me see that food in this period was so scarce that stealing a person’s lunch could be a cause for murder. Without this information, the idea of murdering someone for one day’s worth of food seemed ridiculous, and it took me out of the tale. If you are truly interested in reading Medieval Literature, research is vital. Wikipedia is a good source for this informal type of investigation, as long as you don’t need to cite it in a paper.
How To Start Reading Medieval Literature: Start with Arthur
Arthurian legends and chivalric romances are a great place for people to start reading Medieval Literature. These are the stories of King Arthur, knights, and magic that everyone is familiar with. It seems like everyone in America knows who Queen Guinevere, Lancelot, and King Arthur are. Even spellcheck recognizes their names. This familiarity lends itself to getting used to the oddness that can be the stories from the Middle Ages.
These stories are also equal parts adventure and romance, lending itself to becoming really engaging to the modern reader. And most people won’t need to research the culture of the people, since it is so widely known. It is also really interesting to see how authors started developing the basic plot structures we use today. What may seem cliche now, was actually cutting edge in the Medieval era. It’s enlightening to see the start of the modern story.
I hope these tips help you to start reading Medieval Literature. The stories are truly fantastic, and have stood the test of time.