Category Archives: Medieval Culture

Routledge’s Books Online Through RUG Library

The library has subscribed to Taylor and Francis eBooks (accessable with your library password through the library’s databases site). This database includes ebooks from Routledge and a collection of over 2,000 full-text books on language and literature. As well

English: Logo of Routledge

as many works on the ‘big names’ such as Shakespeare and Chaucer, there are treatments of recent writers who appear on the English syllabus and there are useful resources relevant to all the courses I teach. The site gives access to anthologies of primary texts, works on critical theory and reference works (for example, The Spenser Encyclopedia and The Dante Encyclopedia are both available). You can download the books in pdf and read them on your device. If that isn’t enough inducement for you to try the site out, you will surely not pass up the chance to read my Representations of Eve in Antiquity and the English Middle Ages which is a real page turner.

The ‘abortionist saints’ of medieval Ireland

‘Of Vanishing Fetuses and Maidens Made-Again: Abortion, Restored Virginity, and Similar Scenarios in Medieval Irish Hagiography and Penitentials’, by Maeve Callan, appears in the latest issue of the Journal of the History of Sexuality. Callan examines a wide range of hagiographical works and other sources from medieval Ireland. She writes, “these accounts celebrate saints who perform abortions, restore female fornicators to a virginal state, contemplate infanticide, and result from incest and other ‘illegitimate’ sexual unions. Moreover, the texts themselves generally reflect a remarkably permissive attitude toward these traditionally taboo acts, an attitude also found in Irish penitentials and law codes.” Research examines the ‘abortionist saints’ of medieval Ireland.

British Library acquires the St Cuthbert Gospel, the earliest intact European book

The British Library has announced that it has successfully acquired the St Cuthbert Gospel, a miraculously well-preserved 7th century manuscript that is the oldest European book to survive fully intact and therefore one of the world’s most important books.

A manuscript copy of the Gospel of St John, the St Cuthbert Gospel was produced in the North East of England in the late 7th century and was placed in St Cuthbert’s coffin on Lindisfarne, apparently in 698. The Gospel was found in the saint’s coffin at Durham Cathedral in 1104. It has a beautifully worked original red leather binding in excellent condition, and it is the only surviving high-status manuscript from this crucial period in British history to retain its original appearance, both inside and out. The manuscript has been digitised in full, allowing it to be made freely available online for the first time via the Library’s Digitised Manuscripts webpage.

See British Library – Press and Policy Centre – British Library acquires the St Cuthbert Gospel – the earliest intact European book.

Time to ban Dante?

The Divine Comedy of Dante (d. 1321) has a special place in English literature since it has explicitly influenced writers from Chaucer to T. S. Eliot. If recent news reports (this is just one, the story was also carried on the BBC) are to be believed a human right’s group that is recognised by the UN has called for the removal of the poem from school and university syllabi because of its unacceptable stance on Muslim, Jewish and gay people. The whole affair is a silly one and will have blown over by the time of this is posted. However, there are some random issues arising from it that may be worth noting:

  • Most of the people who will discuss the issue have never read the poem.
  • Some news organs will seize on the story as an example of political correctness gone mad and rush to the defence of an author who would consign them to hell. On the other hand, people who have been the subject of discrimination are willing to put up with outbreaks of crazy political correctness if that is the price of civic equality.
  • The Divine Comedy is indeed negative about sodomites and Saracens, and although I wouldn’t agree with its stance, the case is complicated by the fact that Dante is more positive about these out-groups than might be expected. He’s a lot more condemnatory of certain popes and politicians.
  • Although most people will think that talk of removing Dante from the syllabus is silly, part of the reason for this is that the poem is a medieval one. What about dropping the study of more modern works that are racist, sexist or homophobic? Few people would ban these books, but taking them off syllabi is a little different. Almost certainly you’ll encounter some of these books during your study.

On Monday, February 20th at 5.00 p.m. there will be a lecture by Rory Critten on ‘George Ashby and the Subject of Middle English Autobiography‘. Place: Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies, Oude Boteringestraat 38, Room 130.

As Rory taught here for a semester many  students may know him. His lecture is part of the programme of EMO, the university’s medievalists’ society. During the year medievalists from various disciplines (literature, history, theology, art) give lectures to which all staff and students of the university are welcome. You can simply turn up to any talk which interests you. I’m explaining all this as it is mainly staff who make up the audience and I know from students’ questions that some don’t know that they can attend and that they would be more than welcome. Rory rightly asked me to stress this. These talks are good opportunities to hear professionals addressing one another and to hear papers by visitors to the university.

Who is George Ashby and why should anyone care? I’ll leave this to Rory to answer in detail, but it may be worth noting that he was a 15th century poet who wrote, amongst other things, about his time in prison. The relationship between author and autobiography is a question with a broad relevance so Rory’s talk should be useful as well as interesting. Ashby’s poems can be downloaded at