SEMA Session Proposal 2010

Here is our session proposal for SEMA. Thanks to Kat Tracy for organizing and thanks to our members for these great paper proposals!

SEMA Session Proposal 2010

Session Title: Dead and Loving it in the Middle Ages: The Walking, Talking Dead and Undead

Session Sponsor: MEARCSTAPA

Organizer/Presider: Larissa Tracy, Longwood University


The Gates on the Fringes: Sicily and Ireland as Doorways to the Underworld

Ana Grinberg, University of California, San Diego,

In this paper I will further explore Le Goff’s treatment about the location of the purgatory in Ireland and Sicily, mentioned in his The Birth of Purgatory, mainly looking into sources for “Saint Patrick’s Purgatory” and the legend of King Arthur’s palace in Mt. Etna. I find that these gates into the underworld are not only of “considerable importance” (Le Goff 198), I would also claim that they are the fringes of a geographical construction of the western Christian world. This spatial conception, related to medieval mappae mundi as ideological depiction of the surrounding world, enables a definition of “European-ness” as opposed to multiple Others. Sicily and Ireland were territory to pagans and/or heathens sharing a history of invasion by the Normans. Why do these places refer to groups of dead or undead? How are those groups related to peripheries?

“I’m Not Dead Yet”: Patterns of Victim Agency in Medieval Literature

Melissa Ridley Elmes, The Carlbrook School

Secular medieval literature often incorporates scenes in which corrupt, tyrannical, or power-hungry individuals or groups, usually of the ruling classes, inflict pain and death upon their predominantly socially and politically inferior victims. Despite vastly differing origins and purposes in the presentation and propagation of violence, there is a discernible pattern concerning the evolution of its portrayal in texts as regards victim’s agency. As Britain develops from a loose confederation of various pagan societies into a unified feudal state ruled by a powerful Christian nobility, the voice of minority groups frequently victimized as a result of conquest and assimilation – pagans, women, children, and Jews – is limited more and more, until such victims are without agency and at the mercy of a nobility increasingly distanced from their violent reality. In this paper, I examine the shift from pagan to Christian constructions of the victim of violence in medieval British texts, focusing on the presence – or lack thereof – of victim’s agency in the face of violence.

Speaking For, To, and Via the Dead in Tudor England

Thea Cervone, University of Southern California

Even as the Reformation developed and peaked, establishing a dialogue with the dead, or with other powers for the sake of the dead, remained important in many facets of religion, literature, and academic thought during the Tudor era. Henry VII intended to translate the remains of Henry VI to his newly-constructed chapel at Westminster so that the two might lie together in death, communing and communicating both inside and outside the grave. Henry VIII’s ban on Purgatory changed ritual behavior but not attitudes toward the dead and their ability to speak, or listen. Ludwig Lavater wrote, in the 1560s, that spirits communicated to the living by way of God’s will, and Satan’s behest. As such, they could not be ignored. Other Reformers disagreed, stating that funerary monuments provided the living with all they needed for successful communication with the dead. John Donne, who designed his own funerary monument—and hung a sketch of it in his study—perhaps agreed. His poetry reveals his desire to speak to his future readers not merely through his poetry, but by way of his disinterred remains. This paper will examine these and other situations in which communication with the dead, and for their sake, emerges as a profound but ironic reaction to the banning of the Doctrine of Purgatory, and the system of intercession and avowery that revolved around patron saints.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s