A response to Hortulus’ 2014 sponsored session at Kalamazoo—By Emerson Storm Fillman Richards

“Of whom shall I be afraid?” asked the Hortulus panel at the 2014 International Congress on Medieval Studies, and “enemies” was the answer. It does not seem too general to claim that history and modernity are often understood through conflict. In grade school I was taught the dates of wars, but the dates of peace were just incidental—a momentary respite from conflict and enmity. In literature, conflict drives plot. Nations and cultures were built on, and thus, built up, some of the most famous conflict-driven plots, such as the Táin, the MabinogionLa Chanson de Roland, and the Nibelungenleid, which, of course, has lead to more conflict outside of the literary world. History and literature are entwined—we are always trying to suss out, catalogue, or explain the search for the Other and whether or not we need to menace this Other before it menaces us. By discerning how enemies were understood, we can begin to see how a culture views itself or at least how it is perceived by an author with a perhaps unique, perhaps universal, perhaps coerced opinion.

The Douay-Rheims version of Psalm 26:1 from which our titular question was drawn reads: “The psalm of David before he was anointed. The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the protector of my life: of whom shall I be afraid?” This psalm seeks to offer the comfort of protection and salvation from the Christian God against all enemies—personal or national— to such an extent that these enemies need not be named because though “the wicked draw near, to eat [the] flesh [, the] enemies … have themselves been weakened, and have fallen” (Psalm 26:2). This sentiment must be very comforting, indeed, for Christians of past and present. But we, as scholars of the Middle Ages, must still ask earnestly, “Of whom were our subjects, be they real peoples or people or literary invention, afraid?” Further, we must consider, “Why?” To that end, Hortulus drew together four young scholars from various fields and backgrounds to consider specific representations of enmity from the 9th-century border between Denmark and Frankish territory, to 10th-century mythical Wales, to the courts of 13th-century Iberia, and finally to ancient Greece by way of 14th-century England.

“‘Into that vile countreye’: Figuring Ethnic Enmity with Gog and Magog in Kyng Alisaunde,” by Josephine Livingstone (New York University), and “Franks and Scandinavians: Good NeighborsBad Neighbors” by Daniel Melleno (U.C. Berkeley) pair to formulate a nuanced consideration of the role of nations (as a political entity), spaces, and geography in forming and understanding enemies. Meanwhile, Edward Mead Bowen (Aberystwyth University), who presented “(Former) Enemies at the Gate: Insinuations of Betrayal in Pa gur yv y porthaur,” and Antonella Liuzzo Scorpo (University of Lincoln), author of “‘Ni e yo amigo, ni enemigo’: Enmity, Trust, and Betrayal in Thirteenth-Century Iberia,” both explore a more individual reaction to a breach of trust resulting in friends or councilmen becoming enemies. Scorpo’s work on Llibre dels fets, which is perhaps the first royal autobiography, written by and about Jaume, Count of Barcelona, King of Aragon (from 1213), King of Valencia (1238), King of Majorca (1231) and Lord of Montpellier (dates and titles enumerated by Scorpo), illustrates the interplay between personal enemies and enemies of the state. As Ernst Kantorowicz theorizes in The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Medieval Political Thought (1957), the king represents both his individual identity and the state; therefore, an enemy of the king is inherently an enemy of the state. Scorpo’s approach transitions to Bowen’s analysis of the Middle Welsh poem treating Arthur and Cei’s post-battle parley with a gatekeeper. Bowen addresses the issue of Cei’s betrayal of Arthur, who is yet to be a king at this point in the evolution of Arthurian material. Bowen argues that although the political implication is certainly present, Cei is presented as a lost friend and unfortunate or reluctant enemy of Arthur more than he is depicted as an enemy of Arthur’s domain.

Each of these four papers suggests that the (complicated, perhaps misapplied) status of enemy derives from some manner of proximity. Livingstone’s paper provides an interesting lens through which to look at the other papers. Her argument, based on the representation of Gog and Magog in the Middle English Kyng Alisaunder, claims that the foreignness of the geography is just as important as the foreignness of the people. In fact, the location is what makes the Other foreign. This radicalized Other from another land—if it should encroach—threatens to interrupt the safety of homogeneity. Alisaunder cannot destroy Gog and Magog because they will have a part to play in the Apocalypse, so he erects an edifice to keep them in their “correct” sphere. The implications here are interesting: Gog and Magog, though they are “enemies,” have not yet served their part in God’s apocalyptic plan, and therefore Alisaunder must merely contain them, not eliminate them. I see a connection with Judas, who in most traditional Christian perspectives is Christ’s enemy although he is part of the ultimate plan and could not be omitted from the narrative. He is an enemy, but an enemy with a function and a higher purpose. Livingstone’s point, however, is geographically grounded and she cites Syed Manzoorul Islam’s The Ethics of Travel: From Marco Polo to Kafka (1996), in which he claims that people find their enemies to be those who are in different locations than they are, and it is the space that creates the enemy. With a newfound interest in the marvelous, perhaps there is a new and further comparison to be made between Kyng Alisaunder and the almost-contemporaneous Travels of Sir John Mandeville. Both narratives present Othered spaces, but Mandeville seems to be more interested in the marvelous aspects, rather than the malice, of the foreign spaces.

So, if we take space as the creator of enemies, we can form a coherent dialogue between the four papers. I must mention, however, that spatial difference is not the only thing that creates enemies. Could we have had a paper claiming Lancelot as an enemy of himself in Le chevalier de la charrette when he either gets into the cart or hesitates to get into the cart? Or is Lancelot innocent of self-sabotage because it all works out for him in the end when he rescues the queen and regains his status? What about Malory’s Arthur? Is he an enemy of himself and his own soul because he tries to kill all children born on a certain day in an attempt to rid himself of proof of his incest? In these examples, it is easy to claim that it is not space creating the enemy, but the self creating its own the enemy. Our four papers, however, focus on an enemy that is beyond the self.

Melleno argued that the relationship between the Franks and Scandinavians was not quite as inimical as historical records and narratives suggest. He suggests that, in lieu of accepting the rather negative portrayals of the Vikings by the Frankish annalists, perhaps modern scholars should reconsider the relationship between Franks and Danes as similar to that of modern neighbors. In the early 8th century, the Frankish kingdom established a border with Scandinavia; this geographic proximity did not surmount their cultural differences, however. Too great a proximity to the Other created the tension between the two groups. When viewed through the lens Livingstone established about space creating enemies, Melleno’s argument shows what can happen when space between two nations becomes uncomfortably close. Melleno’s assessment of the Frankish historical records shows something akin to Frankish national pride. The Frankish annalists rejected the (albeit sometimes forced, as in the case of Viking raids) incorporation of the Vikings because their presence disrupted the homogeneity of Frankish culture, even if it was their culture that encroached on the borders of Denmark.

Scorpo’s paper provides a transition from purely political animosity to a grey area between political and personal enmity: what happens when a king is betrayed? Is the betrayal different if it comes from a councilman or a national ally? Is it a betrayal purely of the nation, or is the sting of personal betrayal an additional barb? Since various betrayals are documented in Jaume’s autobiography, and Scorpo mentions his need to justify enmities, perhaps it is not too far afield to suggest that Jaume felt a bit of personal betrayal rather than merely a king’s impersonal acceptance of the wrongs done to him as wrongs done to the country. A facet of Scorpo’s argument included a consideration that there was no one, single definition of enemy in 13th-century Iberia. Enemies could be Iberian or foreign, individuals or groups, but each enemy, whether directed at Jaume himself or the state, antagonized both the king and the nation. If the king’s body is a representation of the state, then those who are not the king are not the state. Therefore, an enemy of the king, Iberian or not, is inherently foreign, and since he or she occupies a body that is not the king’s and is not invested with this dual significance, the enemy of the king is similar to Livingstone’s Othered space. The king should trust no one.

Bowen’s paper on the future king, Arthur, shifts us almost entirely into the realm of individuals as enemies of individuals. Bowen’s reading of Pa gur yv y porthaur suggests that rather than fighting alongside Arthur, Cei fought against Arthur and his men. The poem is fragmentary and does not explain the reason for the battle, nor does it make explicit for whom Cei fought. Bowen suggests, through close reading, that the tone of the poem is that of a eulogy and that the dialogue between Cei and Arthur is as much an enumeration of wrongs done to one other as it is a demonstration of martial prowess to the gatekeeper to prove that they are the best men in the world. Unlike the foci of the other three papers that emphasize politics and national and geographic boundaries, Bowen’s example of enemies meditates upon Arthur and Cei’s explanation of themselves and their deeds, rather than the political mechanisms leading up to the battle (as far as we know from the fragment). Thus we see a kind of enemy that is on the other side of the spectrum from the national enemies of the Frankish and Vikings. Bowen’s examination of Pa gur yv y porthaur narrates a vexed relationship between two individuals. The tension-filled relationship between Cei and Arthur appears in many different nations’ and eras’ various retellings of the Arthurian legend. Their dynamic is similar to the one between Jaume and his advisors; however, in this source, Arthur is not mentioned as a king. Cei has not betrayed the state, only his companion.

So, the obvious “take-away message” from the 2014 Hortulus panel is that we should reevaluate our enemies (personal and national), that people have been fighting and feuding since even well before the Middle Ages, and that perhaps with introspection and retrospection we can create a more peaceful, more tolerant, more loving world. But, I think that this panel accomplished more than that clichéd set of platitudes. Despite what post-modern literary theory claims, contemporary scholars should avoid psychologizing individuals represented in medieval texts and historical records. We can start picking apart archetypes and trends in order to show that to some extent medieval people were afraid of the same things that we currently fear, such as the big-O Other, separation itself, and the notion that relationships are never quite simply good or evil as they appear. When we try to understand responsibly the fears of the subjects of our unique fields of medieval interest and when we nuance and critique some views of the Middle Ages that the Romantic movement gave us (some of which cling to life via contemporary popular culture, cf. films such as Kingdom of Heaven [2005], Robin Hood [2010], Arthur [2011] or programs such as Merlin), then we may begin to illuminate the quotidian lives of medieval peoples, although separated from us by a millennium or more. The session inspires us to continue the effort to smash what remains of the overly simplistic view of a one-dimensional, ill-defined epoch and to discover the dynamic truth about particular parts of, and spaces in, the Middle Ages.

Emerson Storm Fillman Richards


Emerson Storm Fillman Richards is a PhD student in Comparative Literature at Indiana University, Bloomington, and in 2014-2015, she will be a lectrice of English at the Université Paris X Nanterre. Her research focus is the vernacular literatures of the British Isles and France and their manuscripts and manuscript culture in the late and high Middle Ages, but she has a powerful love of Dante, as well. 


 

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