An Epic “Hit List”

by Amanda Gerber

Modern literary historians often turn to manuscript margins to uncover evidence of medieval reading practices, especially to uncover the ethical, rhetorical, or allegorical interpretations appended to texts.[1] While examining medieval copies of classical epics, I have observed that, more than any of the aforementioned interpretive paradigms, medieval readers sought the same type of assistance as modern ones: namely, assistance with deciphering classical epics’ difficult syntax, historical contexts, and convoluted character lists. This blog post accounts for one such struggling fifteenth-century reader of Statius’s first-century Achilleid, a reader who devised his own means for tracking the names of and relationships between the poem’s numerous characters. Continue reading “An Epic “Hit List””

The Bede Roll for the Church of St. Mary in Sandwich

by Martha Rust

Thanks to an abundant variety of medieval sources, we have a clear view of late-medieval English church-goers from the perspective of the pulpit: that is, from the point of view of those who were charged with inducing lay people to come to church and with ordering their behavior once they were there. From this point of view, we see the laity as an abstract, undifferentiated crowd in need of shushing and containment. Continue reading “The Bede Roll for the Church of St. Mary in Sandwich”

The Pleasures and Practicalities of an Itinerary

EL 26 A 13, f. 115v, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California

by Martha Rust

“The Weye unto Rome and so to Venice and to Jerusalem”: these are the words that run across the head of a list of sixty-five place names preserved in a collection of prose and poetry once owned by late medieval London scribe and bibliophile John Shirley (San Marino, Huntington Library MS EL 26.A.13115v, f. 115v). Continue reading “The Pleasures and Practicalities of an Itinerary”

ERC Starting Grant Project on Lists in Literature and Culture at the University of Freiburg

by Sarah Link and Anne Rueggemeier

“Joseph Stalin, Malenkov, Nasser and Prokofiev
Rockefeller, Campanella, Communist Bloc

Roy Cohn, Juan Peron, Toscanini, Dacron
Dien Bien Phu falls, Rock Around the Clock” …

Some of us might first feel the rhythmic pattern of the words, others try to concentrate on individual names and connect them to events. Whatever your reactions to these words from Billy Joel’s “We didn’t start the fire”, it shows in a nutshell many of the cultural, poetic, cognitive and epistemological characteristics that make it so attractive to study lists. And lists are everywhere: shopping lists, to-do lists, bucket lists, rankings, CVs, 1000 places to see before you die, English seminar reading lists and, of course, the sheer infinity of the list encountered, for example, in the local library catalogue. Continue reading “ERC Starting Grant Project on Lists in Literature and Culture at the University of Freiburg”

Seasonal Servius: Zones and the Zodiac in a Virgil Manuscript

by Amanda Gerber

Twelfth-century Vatican manuscript Vaticanus Latinus 1575 proves to have been read by a fellow list-aficionado at some point during its medieval circulation. In fact, this aficionado deemed the list such a superior form of annotation for this copy of Virgil’s[1] Georgics that he crossed out a more verbose expository note alongside it. The list in question neighbors a zonal diagram within an oft-copied Servius commentary.[2] In general, the Georgics commentary circulates both as an independent (or catena) commentary and as a collection of paratexts added to the margins of the poem itself, with the latter being the format for Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, MS Vat. Lat. 1575. This manuscript accumulated Servian and other paratexts during the twelfth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries.[3] On folio 18r, various paratextual formats converge to expound on Virgil’s own lines about Spring being the best time for harvesting, a time characterized by the Bull (Taurus) ushering in the year as the dog star sets and other celestial patterns shift (I.208–30). Continue reading “Seasonal Servius: Zones and the Zodiac in a Virgil Manuscript”

Lists and Literary History: From Chaucer to Ernst Robert Curtius

by Eva von Contzen

Chaucer is a great maker of lists. Lists occur everywhere in his works: think of the shorter lists of trees in The Parliament of Fowls and The Knight’s Tale, the many enumerations in the dream visions, and not least the Canterbury Tales, its enumerative Prologue, The Parson’s Tale, The Monk’s Tale, and not least the many, many lists we encounter within the tales, such as the lists of knights assembling to fight for Arcite and Palamon, the description of Alisoun in The Miller’s Tale; the Wife of Bath’s list of men, and Dorigen’s lament. But Chaucer himself has also become part of a list: the list that is more commonly known as the ‘canon’, in other words, the catalogue of writers and works that form literary history. John Lydgate, in his Prologue to The Fall of Princes, pays tribute to his “maistir Chaucer” (Prol. 246; 275) and enlists him on the rolls of literary history. He does so by enumerating his works: Continue reading “Lists and Literary History: From Chaucer to Ernst Robert Curtius”

What is a List?

by Martha Rust

A list
is a list
is a list …

In his New York Times essay “The Joy of Lists,” Arthur Krystal explains that as a list “purist,” he is of the belief that “a list should aspire to ‘listhood.’” A “true list,” he goes on to say, “ought to at least look like a list.”[1] Krystal doesn’t specify what that look is, but does he need to? When we picture a list in our minds, most of us probably see a column of words or short phrases. Words or phrases arranged vertically, often accompanied by dots or numbers: this is the iconic list, the look of “listhood.” While what a list looks like may thus go without saying, it begs a question that is more difficult to answer: What is it about a list that causes it to be so closely associated with a specific visual form? Or put more simply, what is a list? The following is a list of imaginative answers to that question drawn from a survey of writers writing about lists. As they suggest, whatever lists are, there is much more to them than words. Continue reading “What is a List?”

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