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10 - Challenging the Culture of Memoria: Dead Men, Oblivion, and the “Faithless Widow” in the Middle Ages

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 January 2013

Gerd Althoff
Affiliation:
Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster, Germany
Johannes Fried
Affiliation:
Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt
Patrick J. Geary
Affiliation:
University of Notre Dame, Indiana
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Summary

Medieval people, according to current scholarly consensus, retained a presence among the living even after death; they continued to participate in social interactions and possessed rights of their own. Those scholars who, during the past three decades, have popularized this theory under the heading of memoria (memory) aim at a “total” survey of medieval society, just as earlier scholars had aimed at a similar totality through now “classic” research on gift exchange. Now that this enterprise, which has increasingly been taking form since the early 1960s, has gained wide acceptance, this may be an appropriate time to examine the outlines of this medieval “culture of memoria.” Did medieval people really have no problem accepting the presence of the dead among the living? The title of this chapter hints at the answer: At times they had quite severe problems with the presence of the dead, and these problems manifested themselves in some remarkable ways, including in one of the most popular motifs of medieval narrative - the story of the “faithless widow.”

Some recent studies have emphasized the prominent role of women within the system of memoria. It is striking, however, that the sources referred to in these works deal almost exclusively with exemplary specimens of the social category “widow.”

Type
Chapter
Information
Medieval Concepts of the Past
Ritual, Memory, Historiography
, pp. 215 - 232
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2002

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