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Foreword

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 August 2022

Mark Chinca
Affiliation:
University of Cambridge
Christopher Young
Affiliation:
University of Cambridge
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Summary

Giambattista Vico’s maxim – ‘Doctrines must take their beginning from that of the matters of which they treat’ – offers sound advice for studying emerging literatures. Unfortunately, medieval studies did not choose to heed this counsel during the nineteenth and much of the twentieth centuries. Vainly seeking literary origins, medievalists focused on theories rather than on artefacts themselves – their material nature and sociohistorical context. They erred in not recognizing the indissoluble bond between emergent vernacular languages, historical context, and the literary expressions that gave them shape and identity. The DNA of literary artefacts reveals temporally sensitive components – language, narrative form, and consciousness of social, linguistic, and cultural heritage – in evolutionary flux. Unsurprisingly, then, European medieval literatures evolved under widely varied conditions. For example, northwest Europe was the seat of Charlemagne’s Empire from the ninth to the eleventh centuries. Early on, the Empire divided linguistically between Old Gallo-Romance on the left bank of the Rhine, and Old Franconian on the right. Soon thereafter, we find political and literary documents written in those vernaculars. Two examples offer enlightenment: the ‘Strasbourg Oaths’ (842 CE), and Valenciennes 150, a ninth-century manuscript containing among the earliest literary works in Old Gallo-Romance and Old Franconian.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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