10 Characteristics Of Medieval Literature

Top 10 Characteristics And Features Of Medieval Literature

We explain what medieval literature is, the stages into which it is divided and languages. Also, what are its characteristics, traditions and authors.

What is medieval literature?

Medieval literature is all written during the Middle Ages , ie the Western historical period from the fall of the Roman Empire of the West in 476 and the arrival of Columbus to America in 1492.

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For a long time it was thought that the Middle Ages was a dark age period and practically devoid of artistic manifestations that did not obey the dominant religious thought . This is because the Church as an institution became the protector of European knowledge, protecting books and works of art from barbarian invasions, but then controlling people’s access to reading and books.

However, later studies have shown that there is much more than Christian literature , although it is what predominates in the authors of the time.

Characteristics of medieval literature :

  1. Stages

From a literary point of view, medieval literature can be divided into two stages:

  • Medieval stage. It covers the first texts of this stage, in which romance and minstrel verses predominate, with a marked influence of the popular and rural, and their religious counterpart, such as sacramental acts and theological treatises.
  • Pre-Renaissance stage. As its name indicates, it is the late medieval stage, just before the Renaissance , characterized by the consolidation of the bourgeoisie and its new ways of conceiving society and the world.
  1. Anonymity

Many works of a transgressive character were written by monks and priests.

Many of the literary works of the Middle Ages lacked a defined author, especially those of the popular court , transmitted orally from one minstrel or bard to another. This also attends to the very low literacy rates that characterized the society of this time, in which the letter was reserved for the clergy.

Similarly, many works of a more daring or transgressive character , written by the monks and priests themselves, remained anonymous to avoid persecution by the Catholic Inquisition .

  1. Didacticism and moral

Due to the strong influence on the social control of religion in the societies of the time, literature was required to be a vehicle for the moral, ethical and didactic content of Christianity , which is why it was often an exemplary literature, controlled. Such is the case of Christian bestiaries, in which imaginary properties were attributed to animals according to the moral judgment made of them by the religious imaginary.

However, many other works escaped from this bias , taking up Latin or pagan traditions and recreating them more freely. The problem is that many of these works were not written and there was no good way to preserve them.

  1. The knights errant

The knights errant
The epic of the Christian knight defeating the pagan monsters was something usual.

Chivalric literature entered the Middle Ages, as a form of fiction in which Christian values and symbols converged with the pagan fantasy imaginary, often represented in monstrous and villainous forms. The epic of the Christian knight defeating pagan monsters and imposing religious truth with his sword was a very common tale throughout this period.

  1. Tongue

In the late Middle Ages, texts written in national languages gain dominance.

Initially, literature was written in Latin , the language in which the mass was dictated and religious texts were transmitted. However, towards the late Middle Ages, texts written in national languages predominate, serving to begin to linguistically unify the various European populations of the time. This will be the prelude to the coming nationalism with the Modern Age .

  1. Religiosity

Religious texts are part of the most important literature of the Middle Ages , usually written by priests. Examples of this are the Theological Summa of Santo Tomás de Aquino, the Confessions of San Agustín, and an extensive hagiographic work, that is, of life stories of the members of the Catholic saints.

  1. Versification

Traditional songs or romances were in verse for easy memorization.
 The poetry of the Middle Ages, both lyrically and epic, both religious and popular, became entrenched in the use of the verse. This is mainly due to the oral origin of many of them, coming from songbooks or traditional romances that were in verse to be able to memorize them. This trend will continue in written literature until later centuries.
  1. Traditions

As has been said, medieval literature often undertakes the construction of a Christian imaginary, but does not ignore the pagan traditions that accompany it . Thus, Nordic, Celtic, Latin and even Islamic imaginaries have a place in these works, although often occupying a place of otherness, suspicion, if not antagonism.

  1. Feudal order

Feudal order
Medieval works exalted the fidelity of knights errant.

Most medieval works show the feudal order of the society in which they were born , for example, exalting the fidelity of knights-errant to a king or lord; despite which many works such as Tristan and Isolde, for example, showed timid transgressions of that order through love stories . Many of them were outlawed as immoral and censored by the church.

  1. Authors

A small list of medieval authors includes the names of: Fernando Rojas, Gonzalo de Berceo, Jaufré Rudel, Rimbaut Arenga, Alfonso X “el sabio”, Giovanni Bocaccio, Don Juan Manuel, Beroul, Gottfried von Strassburg, Geoffrey Chaucer, the Archpriest of Hita, Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo, Santo Tomás de Aquino, San Agustín, Isidoro de Sevilla, San Ambrosio and many others.

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