Thursday, January 31, 2008

Why Study Medieval Literature?

Because it is cool, of course!

My kids don't buy that, either. Maybe these reasons are more convincing:
  • The works that have survived the last 600-800 years are great literature, and have been considered so for centuries. So reading a few of them at least gives you a standard for judging other works.
  • Works like The Canterbury Tales and Dante's Inferno are part of the great discussion of western civilization. Many other, later works refer back to them, and if you know these works, you are better prepared to join the conversation - or at least know what the conversation is about.
  • It is fun to recognize the references when you come across them in later reading, like being part of the in-group.
  • Reading them is challenging, because they use different conventions than modern literature does. So reading these books is a good work-out for your brain.
  • Because medieval literary conventions are so unfamiliar, reading these works gives you a frame of reference for modern conventions, a chance to see another way to think about the world.
  • Reading works from the period illuminates the way the medieval mind worked better than any textbook. It is one thing to read about what life was like, and another entirely to see the world through the eyes of someone who lived then. In particular, it is intriguing to see what they didn't see, didn't notice because it didn't matter in their frame of reference, and what they noticed that we don't.

No comments: