Within the history of universal literature, the contributions generated in the Middle Ages have served much to leave records of what the societies of this era were like, their culture, their moral and social patterns, as well as the literary styles used to tell real or fabulous stories of that moment in the history of humanity. The development of medieval literature takes place in Europe, starting with the fall of the Roman Empire and ending with the arrival of the Renaissance. Medieval literature initially had a theocentric view of the world because it placed God at the center of the universe and its themes were linked to religion, chivalrous deeds and love. In spite of this, texts have been found that are not linked to the religious theme in this period.
What is medieval literature?
Medieval literature is all the written manifestation that took place in the Middle Ages, which begins after the fall of the Roman Empire until the beginning of the Renaissance. The place where literature developed was the European continent. It was characterized by generating works that were mostly by unknown authors, which covered topics related to morals and religion, chivalry stories, religious texts, among others. It was initially written in Latin and later in the national languages of some countries.
Characteristics of medieval literature
Among the most representative characteristics of medieval literature we can mention the following:
- It is located in Europe.
- It begins with the fall of the Roman Empire and ends at the beginning of the Renaissance.
- It has three stages: the High Middle Ages, the Flat Middle Ages and the Late Middle Ages.
- Many of the works of medieval literature are by unknown authors.
- The themes of the texts had moral, ethical and didactic contents of Christianity that were supervised by the church.
- It developed stories of chivalry to promote Christian values.
- Religious texts are part of medieval literature.
- It developed lyrical and epic genres by strengthening the use of verse.
Antecedents of medieval literature
From the antecedents of medieval literature we can cite the following:
- The fall of Rome, which represented the political center of the Empire.
- Latin was a language that came from the Roman Empire and was maintained at the beginning of the Middle Ages.
- Roman law prevailed to mark the social order.
- The Christian Church acted as a traditional organization.
- There was a cultured and aristocratic minority.
- The Roman-Germanic kingdoms are supported by Charlemagne.
- Charlemagne creates an empire conquered by arms.
- The figure of the warrior was replaced by that of the Knight.
- The arrival of the holy war announced by the prophet Muhammad, which motivates Muslim people to conquer European peoples.
Medieval literature begins in 476 A.D. and ends with the Renaissance at the end of the 15th century.
Medieval history can be divided into three stages, in which literature took part. These are:
- The High Middle Ages: In this period, literature is written in Latin. This is the language that had been used in the territories of the Roman Empire and that remained active in the Middle Ages until it was replaced by the emergence of the Romance and Anglo-Saxon languages.
- The Middle Ages Plain: This epoch develops during the 11th and 13th centuries. In this time of Romance and Anglo-Saxon languages developed, epic and poetry with narrations of heroic and amorous events.
- The Late Middle Ages or Pre-Renaissance: It developed between the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. During this period, great social changes took place. In the field of literature, the knightly novel and profane theatre were born.
The themes of medieval literature were of two types, religious writings and secular writings.
The religious writings were known as Mester of Clergy and contained texts centered on God and the values of the Catholic Church.
The lay writings were also called Jugglary Mester and were not as abundant as the religious, but they were part of the literature of this time and they told stories of chivalry and love.
The literary genres used in medieval literature were epics, lyrics, narrative and theatre.
- The epic could be popular, represented by the songs of deeds or cults related to epopee.
- The lyric could be cultured or popular. On the popular side, we can mention the carols, the songs of friends and the Jarchas.
- The narrative was a movement that was used for the development of the novel and the story.
- The theater was also focused on its two types of audience: the cult and the popular. The cult theatre was related to religious themes and the popular one to minstrel songs.
The most prominent representatives of medieval literature were:
- Don Juan Manuel (1282-1348): This writer from Toledo is famous for his stories in medieval literature. Among his most outstanding works we can mention:
- Count Lucanor.
- The book of weapons.
- The book of the knight and squire.
- The book of the states.
- Monk Geoffrey of Monmouth (1100-1155): The works of this monk are of great importance to the medieval history of the British monarchy. Among his best-known works we can mention:
- The history of the kings of Brittany
- The story of King Arthur,
- The Merlin Wizard.
- Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1275): Also known as the Angelic Doctor, he was a Theologian and philosopher of the Order of Preachers and one of the most representative figures of the Christian religion. His work transcended his time and today, is studied by philosophers and religious. Among his best known works can be cited:
- The Theological Summa.
- The Sum against the Gentiles
- The nine treated in the form of academic disputes.
- The Nine Exegesis on the Sacred ones.
- Jean Bodel (1165-1210): Troubadour, playwright and French poet who classified legendary themes of the Middle Ages into three subjects: The Matter of Rome, the Matter of Brittany and the Matter of France. Among his best known works can be named:
- The chanson des Saisnes
- Jeu de Saint Nicolas.
Works of medieval literature
Among the most outstanding works of medieval literature, we can mention some from Spain, Italy, France and other European countries such as:
- In Spain:
- Mio Cid’ s singing, Anonymous.
- Amadis of Gaula, Anonymous.
- In Italy:
- The Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri
- Decameron, Giovanni Boccacio.
- Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas
- In France:
- The singing of Roldán, Anonymous
- In England :
- In Germany:
- The Nibelungs singing, Anonymous
Written by Gabriela Briceño V.