Monday, July 21, 2008

Merry Medieval Monday: Unexpectedly Confronting the Past

by Mary Kate Hurley
(image: unexpected Medieval Italian Greyhound, from the Cloisters museum, that looks surprisingly like my own dog, Allegra)

Today was a beautiful day for working on my dissertation. This was especially true because I got to have tea with my undergraduate adviser, Gillian Overing, and there are very few meetings that I look forward to more. So of course, on this particular Monday, there was no doubt that there would be much conversation about the Anglo-Saxon past, and of course about the work being done that will orient the future of our studies. This certitude of medieval-ly oriented conversations is not what I wish to speak about today.

In an alliterative analogue to Festive Fridays, I thought Merry Medieval Mondays might be a adequate appelation for this post, and my topic is the unexpected encounters we have in which our medieval knowledge is useful. My story comes to you from this weekend, during which my immediate family congregated to move my younger sister to Raleigh. At a post-move run to the grocery store, I was picking up a few things and found myself behind a woman who was talking about "old words" and how nice they are, and the question of why they aren't used more frequently. Imagine my surprise when the next "old word" she chose to talk about was "troubadour." Imagine my even further surprise when this same woman decided to ask the entire line of customers if anyone knew what a troubadour was.

"Well, uh -- actually -- I do!" was my startled response. I was so shocked to be using my admittedly rusty knowledge of Old Provencal lyric that I didn't even do a very good job explaining what troubadours were.

So as the Merry Medieval Monday Question: When did you find yourself employing your knowledge of the medieval in an unexpected time or place?

Cross posted to ITM.


K. A. Laity said...

A bit late, but it is still a Monday (I think -- hey, it's summer!)

I was visiting friends in Great Dunmow (which coincidentally has a great medieval tradition of its own) for dinner and drinks. They're both teachers and mentioned upcoming lessons as we chatted.

"Wait, you do medieval, right?"


"Can you translate Chaucer's Knight's Tale?"

Fortunately, she was only asking me to translate the first 20 or so lines. It was interesting to have to explain on the fly not only the grammar of my off-the-cuff translations, but also how they fit into the context of the story as a whole -- in a way that would be suitable to explain to students under ten!

I can't imagine American schools introducing Chaucer in the original at that age. More's the pity -- I have undergraduates who moan at having to read Chaucer in Middle English. I'm going to use this story to shame them.

But it was unexpected -- and fun.