David Jones: Examining Constructions of Empire in ‘The Roman Dinner Conversation’

David Jones, Portrait of a Maker, 1932, oil on canvas, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales.

Next Meeting: Friday 19th July, 15:00-17:00, in Room 1.45 of the John Percival Building

David Jones (1895-1974) was an Anglo-Welsh modernist artist and poet. Born in London to Alice and James Jones, Jones began expressing a strong affinity with his father’s Welsh heritage from a very young age. Indeed, in his biography of Jones, Thomas Dilworth recounts a school-trip Jones took to the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey, ‘where, at the age of twelve (careful that no one was looking), he spat on the tomb of Edward I, the conqueror of Wales.’[1]

With the outbreak of World War One, Jones enlisted with the Royal Welch Fusiliers. It was whilst he was serving with the 38th (Welsh) Division that he stumbled upon the curious sight of a priest performing Mass in an abandoned outhouse in the wastelands of the Western Front. Soon after, in 1921, Jones wrote a letter home in which he announced his conversion to the Roman Catholic Church. His conversion to Roman Catholicism elicited mixed reactions from his parents; whereas James responded with an impassioned diatribe against the Catholic Church, Alice, who herself had learned the purest Catholic doctrine as a young girl, expressed far more ambivalent feelings towards her son’s conversion.

These disparate strands of Jones’ Welsh inheritance, his Roman Catholic theology, and his brutal experiences of the Great War became intertwined in his first publication, In Parenthesis (1937). Written as an attempt to articulate and understand his own experiences of the war, In Parenthesis was received with great critical acclaim, and remains the work for which Jones is most well-known to this day.

This month’s reading, however, is extracted from Jones’ lesser-known and more recently published manuscripts. Taken from Thomas Goldpaugh and Jamie Callison’s David Jones’s The Grail Mass and Other Works (2019), Jones’ ‘The Roman Dinner Conversation’ boasts a complicated compositional history. Initially, Jones planned for ‘The Roman Dinner Conversation’ to form a small part of a bigger writing project that was to encompass the majority of his writings from the late 1930s to the early 1940s. This large-scale project, however, failed to come to fruition. Through a process of re-arranging and revising the manuscripts he had already written in the ’30s and ’40s, Jones quarried material from this incomplete project to instead form much of his second epic-length publication, The Anathemata (1952).

It was not until the early ’60s that Jones returned to his unpublished writings of the ’30s and ’40s. Indeed, in a letter to Harman Grisewood, dated 28th May 1962, Jones writes that:

I’m trying to re-write that thing you liked – the dinner party with the old Roman blimp and the girl and the subaltern in Jerusalem at the time of Our Lord’s Passion. I used to feel it was crude and impious, but on re-reading it, I think I can make something of it.

David Jones, Dai Greatcoat: A Self-Portrait of David Jones in His Letters, ed. by René Hague (London: Faber & Faber, 1980), p. 192.

This overview of the history behind ‘The Roman Dinner Conversation’ as a continual process of re-writing and revision thus points to its stages of development, from a fragment intended for a bigger project to a separate text that is worthy of study in its own right.

‘The Roman Dinner Conversation’ is a series of dialogues held between a group of Roman intelligentsia. This group consists of an ‘old Roman blimp’ who is highly experienced in Roman administration, a young and inexperienced subaltern, and a young woman who is deeply interested in religion and the occult. The topic of their conversations range from the imperial expansion of the Roman empire, to the status of the colonised nations, and to the recent arrest of Christ at Gethsemane.

‘The Roman Dinner Conversation’, then, is an examination of the issues of empire and imperial expansion, all given from the perspective of the colonisers. Indeed, the voices of the colonised nations are silenced, non-existent within the text, even as their cultures are destroyed under the ruthless expansion of the Roman empire.

Questions/ Discussion Topics:

1)   How are medieval and classical influences used/repurposed by Jones in the text? What can they say (if anything) about discourses on empire in the mid-twentieth century?

2)   What do you make of each individual character? What are their views on empire and imperial expansion? 

  • the ‘old Roman blimp’
  • the subaltern
  • Julia

3)   How are the colonised nations/indigenous cultures constructed by this group of Roman imperial officials?

4)   What effect do you think it has that the colonised people do not speak/have a voice in this text? Why write a text on empire from the sole perspective of the colonisers?

5)   What do you think of:

  • the tone of the text? Are there any changes in the tone throughout the text? If so, where and why?
  • the structure of the text?
  • the aesthetics of the text? I’m particularly thinking of the geometric metaphors – how does Jones use them and to what effect?

6)   Are there any links between this text and any other of Jones’ writings/artworks you may have come across?

Also, if anyone can figure out what the line, ‘the eye and central keep, that the quincuncial fosse and fretted troia cats’ cradle a defence for, by traverse or horse-dance’ means on p. 171, then please do share! Jones is a brilliant writer, but some of his sentences do leave me at my wits’ end.

See you on Friday 19th, and happy reading!

[1]Thomas Dilworth, David Jones: Engraver, Soldier, Painter, Poet (London: Jonathan Cape, 2017), p. 15.


Dramatising King John: Shakespeare and Peele


Though not published until the First Folio of 1623, Shakespeare’s King John is usually dated to around 1596. It was written after the first tetralogy and the first play of the second tetralogy, Richard II, but probably before the ‘Henriad’ (the two parts of Henry IV and Henry V). In addition to the chronicle sources Shakespeare often consulted for a number of his plays (and history plays in particular) – such as Edward Hall’s The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancastre and Yorke (or simply Hall’s Chronicle, 1548 and 1550) and Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland (1577 and 1587) – Shakespeare used an earlier dramatisation of John’s reign as a source for his own play. The Troublesome Reign of John, King of England was published in two parts in 1591, and was probably written in around 1589-90. The play is now usually attributed to George Peele, thanks largely to work by Brian Vickers that built on a hundred years of critical debate about the play’s authorship to identify stylistic features and thematic interests frequently seen in Peele’s other works. Peele was an Elizabethan dramatist and contemporary of Shakespeare who wrote plays such as The Battle of Alcazar and Edward I. He is also often accepted as Shakespeare’s collaborator on Titus Andronicus. Shakespeare and Peele, then, shared dramatic interests and probably even worked together. The two John plays demonstrate that the two dramatists were certainly aware of one another.

Peele’s Troublesome Reign is perhaps the earliest secular English history play, building on earlier Tudor precedents such as Bale’s Kynge Johan (c. 1538) and Norton and Sackville’s Gorboduc (c. 1561). Peele’s characters are not allegorical but are real, identifiable political figures from English history. Troublesome Reign emerged at the very beginning of a decade in which the history play developed as a recognisable and popular dramatic genre. Although it rarely receives critical attention in its own right, Troublesome Reign also established a number of the conventions we see in many history plays that were written and performed in the 1590s: battles for the English throne; domestic and international conflict; questions of legitimacy, inheritance, and succession; an emphasis on the presence, action, and voices of female characters as potential wives, mothers, and political supporters; and interrogation of authority and historical accuracy.

Shakespeare’s King John also utilises a number of these conventions, but is often criticised for:

A lack of unity and telic design, episodic and faulty plot structure, absence of both a clearly defined protagonist and a governing central theme, inconsistency of style, rejection of “cosmic lore”, flat characterization and “ethical muddles,” and egregious failure to allude to the Magna Charta. [1]

These perceived weaknesses of King John are often ‘blamed’ in Troublesome Reign, itself frequently ‘[v]iewed simply as the crude prelude to Shakespeare’s greater play or even as its inferior derivative’:[2] if Shakespeare’s dramatisation of John’s reign is weak, then it must be because his source is substandard. However, this sort of approach to reading the two plays is reductionist and overlooks a lot of the experimental and interrogative challenges (some of which are mentioned above) posed by both plays and their shared content.

Peele’s play implicitly places a value judgement on John’s reign as it characterises it as ‘troublesome’. It implies something worrying, dangerous, troubling about John’s reign, and seems to participate in the subsequent historical and critical representations and discussions of ‘Bad King John’. Peele actually presents John as self-assured, decisive, and patriotic for much of the play. Perhaps we are being invited to think of the reign as troubling, the historical challenges faced by the troubled king as troublesome.

Shakespeare’s full title does not judge or comment on the quality of John’s reign. The Life and Death of King John instead suggests a more straightforward history play, a linear dramatisation of this king’s reign. As previously suggested, the play does not fulfil its suggestion: it (seemingly-arbitrarily) offers only select details from John’s reign, denying a sense of cohesion in the play (perhaps, itself, a comment on this reign). Walter Cohen characterises King John as a play that is shaped by its ‘skeptical view of traditional authority – ecclesiastical and secular alike’ and its ‘relative inattention to John himself’.[3] Cohen argues that there is thus a ‘vacuum’ in the play that is ‘filled by women and a bastard, personages generally peripheral to dynastic history.’[4] In the play’s second Act, King Philip of France interrupts Queen Eleanor and Constance’s argument, and Austria’s parallel argument with Philip the Bastard and Blanche. He says ‘women and fools, break off your conference’ (2.1.150), effectively drawing attention to the fact that these ‘women and fools’ are seizing rhetorical space and making their voices heard because they do have important things to say.

In the two opening scenes of these plays that we are looking at in this month’s reading group, we see John faced with one of the main ‘troubles’ of his reign. As Holinshed writes, the death of John’s elder brother King Richard I caused political schisms in his French territories, with some places

indeuouring to preferre king Iohn, other labouring rather to be vnder the gouernance of Arthur duke of Britaine, conside|ring that he séemed by most right to be their chéefe lord, forsomuch as he was sonne to Geffrey elder brother to Iohn. And thus began the broile in those quarters, whereof in processe of time insued great inconuenience, and finallie the death of the said Ar|thur, as shall be shewed hereafter.[5]

Both King John and Troublesome Reign show the French ambassador come to England to lay down Arthur’s claim for the English crown. Arthur’s claim depends on the custom of primogeniture, where the eldest sons inherit: as the heir to John’s elder brother, Arthur should come before John in the line of succession. Primogeniture carried authority in the later Middle Ages and also during the late Elizabethan era when these plays were first written and performed, but in their 1199 setting this ‘precedence in blood was not yet clearly established’.[6] Arthur’s claim to the English throne is juxtaposed with the Falconbridge dispute, where a bastard son of Richard I ultimately forfeits his claim to the Falconbridge inheritance in exchange for a knighthood and to be acknowledged as a ‘Plantagenet’. In the first scene of both plays, these two claims are paralleled in order to foreground the plays’ concerns with questions of legality, legitimacy, and lineage.

Topics for discussion:

• How are these two scenes similar and different? Does it matter?
• What sorts of expectations are being set up in the opening scenes of both plays?
• Are there any hints about how and why John’s reign is being characterised as ‘troublesome’ in the opening scene of Troublesome Reign? What about in King John?
• Related to the above: what sort of king is John being presented as?
• What is the role of women, bastards, and ‘fools’ here? How do they feature in the discussions of legitimacy and lineage?
• What is Queen Eleanor’s role? Does it change between the two texts? How?
• How is authority being treated/represented?
• How is family being treated/represented?
• Do you think that the multiplicity of voices serves to complicate the plot? Complicate history?
• How do these scenes correspond with any previous knowledge we have of King John? Of history plays?

[1] Deborah T. Curren-Aquino, ‘Introduction: King John Resurgent’, in King John: New Perspectives, ed. by Curren-Aquino (Newark, NJ: University of Delaware Press, 1989), pp. 11-26 (p. 11). In this introduction, Curren-Aquino details some of the criticisms levelled at King John as a dramatic work, from its lack of ‘governing central theme’ to its ‘inconsistency of style’.

[2] Charles R. Forker, ‘Introduction’, in The Troublesome Reign of John, King of England, ed. by Charles R. Forker (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2011), pp. 1-104 (p. 55).

[3] Walter Cohen, ‘Introduction to King John’, in The Norton Shakespeare, pp. 1045-1052 (p. 1047).

[4] Cohen, ‘Introduction to King John’, p. 1047.

[5] Holinshed’s Chronicles (1587, Volume 6, p. 157)

[6] W. L. Warren, King John (Berkeley, LA and London: University of California Press, 1978), p. 48.

Ben Jonson’s The Underwood: A Selection



Next Meeting: Friday 12th April, 15:00-17:00, in Room 2.47 of the John Percival Building

Ben Jonson (1572-1637) was one of the most prominent playwrights, poets, and prose writers of Renaissance London. He is most well known as the author of twenty plays, including Everyman In His Humour (1598) and Volpone (1605), and as one of the most significance masque writers of the early Stuart court, writing thirty-six masques in total. This month, we are looking at a small selection of poems taken from the posthumously published poetry collection entitled The Underwood(1640).

The Underwood was the third collection of poetry to be published under Jonson’s name, following both Epigrams (1612) and The Forest (1616), though the poems contained within Underwood are thought to have been written across Jonson’s career. Jonson wrote, at the start of the collection, that:

‘as the multitude call timber trees promiscuously growing a ‘wood’ or ‘forest’, so am I bold to entitle these lesser poems of later growth by this of ‘underwood’, out of the analogy they hold to The Forest in my former book, and no otherwise’[1]

Though Jonson here seems to imply that the poems contained within Underwood are products of his later life, it seems that he initially wrote a number of them many years earlier. This short preface to the collection does suggest that Jonson had some hand in the preparation and ordering of the volume, though it is unlikely that he prepared the final version for publication given that a number of poems by other writers have managed to slip in, including 39, which we are reading, and which is now believed to have been written by John Donne.

The Underwood came to influence a whole generation of poetic volumes printed in the 1640s, which preserved relics of poets who were dead and gone by the time their works were published’.[2]This led to a ‘cult of resistant nostalgia’, in which dead poets who praise a world which had past and left behind it war and division.[3]Some of this resistant nostalgia is evident in the selection of poems we are reading, and may reflect a Jonson’s view that he was not valued as he once was.

Our primary focus is on An Execration Upon Vulcan, number 43 in the collection. This poem tells of the fire that befell Jonson and destroyed his house in 1623, devouring a number of unpublished and unfinished works of Jonson’s. Jonson rewrote some of the texts he claims were destroyed while others, such as the description of his walk to Scotland and back, would not be rewritten and so were lost to us forever. It appears that Jonson may have written, and circulated this particular poem much earlier than 1640, as Jonson’s neighbour, and devotee, James Howell wrote of a second fire in Jonson’s house that it was ‘the second time that Vulcan hath threatened you. It may be because you spoke ill of his wife, and bin too busy with his hornes.’[4]From the reference to Vulcan, and Vulcan’s wife, it seems likely that Howell had read a version of An Execration Upon Vulcan. It also seems that Jonson had not learned his lesson from the first fire!

Questions/Discussion Topics

  1. How does An Execration Upon Vulcan seem to view different genres? Does a potential hierarchy of literature emerge?
  2. How does the tone shift within An Execration Upon Vulcan? Is it consistent throughout or does it change? How does Jonson construct himself throughout the poem?
  3. Can a discourse of censorship be identified within An Execration Upon Vulcan?
  4. How does Jonson construct death throughout the elegies? Is there a similar discourse of death/loss that runs across the selection?
  5. Is there a noticeable difference between 39, the elegy by Donne, and the other elegies? Is Jonson attempting to mimic Donne’s style?
  6. To what extent are these poems about age and the inability of an aging/dead poet to affect the world around him? Are they nostalgic?
  7. How far is A Speech According to Horaceconcerned with contemporary politics and European affairs?
  8. Do these poems appear to speak to one another in any coherent way, or have they simply fallen where they were dropped?

[1]Ben Jonson, The Underwood, in The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson: Volume 7: 1641: Bibliography, ed. By David Bevington, Martin Butler, and Ian Donaldson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), pp. 79-295, p. 79.

[2]Colin Burrow, ‘Introduction: The Underwood’ in The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson: Volume 7: 1641: Bibliography, ed. By David Bevington, Martin Butler, and Ian Donaldson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), pp. 71-6, p. 72.

[3]Burrow, ‘Introduction’, p. 72.

[4]James Howell, Epistalae Ho Elianae. Familiar Letters Domestic and Forren: Partly Historical, Political, Phylosophical(Hum Mosely: London, 1645), Section 5, p. 23.

Gottfried von Strassburg, Tristan (20th February)

Portrait of Gottfried von Strassburg from the Codex Manesse (f. 364r)

Next Meeting: 20th February 2019 / Room 2.46 / 3-5pm

Very little is known about Gottfried’s life. He died in 1210 before finishing Tristan. Along with Hartman von Aue, who translated two of the romances of Chretien de Troyes into German, and Wolfram von Eschenbach, who is best known for the Parzival, Gottfried is one of the great writers of German Arthurian romance. W. T. H Jackson writes that

[o]f all the German courtly poets, he [Gottfried] gives immeasurably the greatest evidence of formal learning – his knowledge of the classics, his skill in the formal style which some rather unwisely persist in calling rhetoric, his acquaintance with French literary, and his grasp of mystical theology and its terminology – all these stamp him as formally trained, as a magister or dominus.[1]

Later writers and Gottfried’s continuators referred to him as meister (master) – rather than hêr (sir) – which designates educational or social status. Gottfried’s occupation is uncertain: he was probably a member of the urban patriciate of Strassburg, but he could have also been a local urban or episcopal secretariat.



Gottfried’s Tristan ‘is the most ambitious and sophisticated treatment of the story in German’.[2] The story begins with the romance of Tristan’s parents, Rivalin and Blancheflor (King Mark’s sister). Gottfried also dedicates a large portion of the text to Tristan’s youth, including his education by his tutor Governal, his arrival at King Mark’s court, and his adventures in Ireland. The main narrative focuses on the tragic love story of Tristan and Isolde.

Like many Tristan texts, Gottfried’s version is incomplete. The poem (19,416 lines) breaks off as Tristan is contemplating marriage to Isolde of the White Hands. The remainder of the plot, including Tristan’s marriage, his return to Isolde, and the deaths of Tristan and Isolde, can be reconstructed from Gottfried’s Anglo-Norman source, the Tristan of Thomas (1170-5). Two later poets, Ulrich von Türheim (1235) and Heinrich von Freiburg (1290), continued Gottfried’s narrative in Tristan; however, they used Eilhart von Oberge (1175) as their main source rather than the Tristan of Thomas.

Gottfried’s Tristan is extant in fourteen complete manuscripts (including three now lost), as well as twenty-one fragments from seventeen manuscripts. The manuscripts were produced between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries, primarily in the Upper Rhineland and Central Germany.


Selected Extracts

In addition to the prologue, we are reading a selection of chapters from the Penguin edition of Tristan translated by A. T. Hatto.

Chapters 15 and 16

In ‘Chapter 15’, Tristan and Isolde mistakenly drink the love-potion (or liebestrank) that Queen Isolde – Isolde’s mother – intended for King Mark and Isolde. Gottfried was the first writer to make Tristan offer the cup to Isolde before he drank it. ‘Chapter 16’ describes the anguish and pain of the lovers before they succumb to their desires; it also includes one of Gottfried’s commentaries or discourses.

Chapter 22

In this chapter, Melot and King Mark hide in an olive tree to discover Tristan and Isolde’s adultery; however, Tristan recognises their shadows and alerts Isolde. The lovers deceive Melot and Mark and disprove the rumours of their relationship. In the following chapter (not included), Melot and Marjodoc trick Tristan and provide evidence of adultery. Isolde is subsequently tried by the Bishop of the Thames and at the final judgement she convinces the court of her innocence.

Chapters 25 to 28

These four chapters describe the banishment of Tristan and Isolde from King Mark’s court, their refuge in the Cave of Lovers, their discovery by King Mark’s huntsman, and the return of Tristan and Isolde and their final parting. In the final chapter (not included), Tristan flees to Brittany and the text breaks off as he is considering marriage to Isolde of the White Hands.
Questions for discussion

  • How does Gottfried’s Tristan compare to other versions of the legend? (Béroul, for example). Why does Gottfried choose to follow the Tristan of Thomas?
  • How does Gottfried address his audience in the prologue?
  • Denis de Rougement proposes that the Tristan story ‘set passion in a framework within which it could be expressed in symbolical satisfactions’.[3] How are love and desire described and articulated in Gottfried’s Tristan?
  • What is the function of the love-potion – or liebestrank – in Gottfried’s Tristan?
  • Is Mark a jealous husband or a pathetic figure?
  • How do the discourses on love (pp. 202-4) and surveillance (pp. 275-9) comment on the narrative of the text?
  • What is the significance of sight and vision in the text?
  • Gottfried appropriates represents various discourses from religious allegory, hagiography, mysticism, Ovidian love-discourse, classical historiography, medieval Platonism, Christian salvation history, and Arthurian romance (among others). How do these discourses function in dialogue with each other?
  • William D. Cole describes the Cave of the Lovers as a ‘bizarre, multivalent, and ultimately undefinable symbol’.[4] Is it possible to interpret the meaning of the Cave? What could it signify?



[1] W. T. H. Jackson, ‘Tristan the Artist in Gottfried’s Poem’, in Tristan and Isolde, ed. by Joan Tasker Grimbert (London and New York: Routledge, 2002), pp. 125-146 (p. 125).

[2] Mark Chinca, ‘Tristan Narratives from the High to the Late Middle Ages’, in The Arthur of the Germans: The Arthurian Legend in Medieval German and Dutch Literature, ed. by W. H. Jackson and S. A. Ranawake (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2011), pp. 117-134 (p. 120).

[3] Denis de Rougement, Love in the Western World, trans. by Montgomery Belgion (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983), pp. 22-3.

[4] William D. Cole, ‘Purgatory vs. Eden: Beroul’s Forest and Gottfried’s Cave’, The Germanic Review, 70.1 (1995), 2-8 (p. 2).

Ovid’s Medea in the Medieval and Early Modern Period (12th December)

Medea crashes Jason’s wedding party. Source: Histoire ancienne jusqu’à César, Royal MS 20 D I, f. 37v.

To jump right into discussing the various ways Medea was fashioned and re-fashioned throughout the Middle Ages is tempting but ultimately a shallow and unfulfilling approach. To read her medieval versions without understanding the social, religious and cultural background that generated them is not to read her at all.[1]

Over the course of a long history that stretches back to Greek mythology, there have been many versions of Medea, all overlapping with and building upon each other. Predominantly, it is as the archetypal murderous mother that she is most often remembered, but this is not the only label she has borne. Treacherous daughter, murderous sister, enchantress, potioneer, and wronged wife are also titles she has counted among her own.

The daughter of King Aeëtes of Colchis and a granddaughter of the sun-god, Helios, Medea fell in love with the hero, Jason, helping him to outwit her father and steal the Golden Fleece. It is Jason’s betrayal of her love for him that prompts the extreme acts of infanticidal revenge that made her name synonymous with ‘wickedness itself’.[2] However, this betrayal also paves the way for the depiction of a more sensitive, emotional Medea that writers such as Geoffrey Chaucer capitalised upon to recast her in a more fitting, less threatening, manner.

Whatever else she may be, Medea is indisputably a cause of fear. In the medieval period, she became particularly menacing to an English audience in period that was undergoing seismic social and cultural shift. Her actions capture the attention of writers through the ages, almost reluctantly so. The Elizabethan poet and playwright, Thomas Achelley, dismissed the transgressive behaviours of Medea and her ilke as the actions of “ethnicke examples”, emphasising the distance between her and the women of Protestant England – the implication being women should be grateful for this distance.[3] And yet, for all Achelley dismisses Medea as unimportant, he and others are incapable of leaving her alone. Her narrative is not one that easily allows the author / reader to move on, being as reluctant to let go as Medea herself was over Jason. Beyond the apparent end of her own tale, Medea crosses over into roles in the tales of other characters. In the Metamorphoses, for instance, she reappears at the beginning of the Theseus narrative as the wicked stepmother, trying to arrange Theseus’ poisoning to guarantee the furtherance of her own son’s prospects.

She is the subject of plays by Euripides and Seneca (which survive) and one by Ovid (which does not), but as access to surviving Greek tragedies was limited through the medieval and early modern period, it is Ovid’s version of her, found in Book VII of the Metamorphoses and Heroides XII, that is most important to her medieval and early modern presence. This month, we will be looking at two translations of the Medea narrative in Ovid’s Metamorphoses; Chaucer’s retelling within The Legend of Good Women; and the very end of William Caxton’s The History of Jason.

This months texts:

  1. Ovid, Metamorphoses, trans. A. D. Melville (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986, reis. 2008), ll. 1-402.
  2. Ovid, Ovid’s Metamorphoses: The Arthur Golding Translation, 1567, J. F. Nims, trans. A. Golding (Paul Dry Books, Inc, new edn. 2000), ll. 1-513.
  3. Geoffrey Chaucer, ‘The Legend of Hypsipyle and Medea’, The Legend of Good Womenin The Riverside Chaucer, 3rd edn, ed. Larry D. Benson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 1580-1679.
  4. William Caxton, History of Jason, John Munro (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1908), ll. 19-40.

The Latin poet Publius Ovidius Naso – Ovid – was born in 43 BC and was the only one of the great Latin poets to see the beginning of the Christian era. Ovid is one of the most influential poets in Western literature, and the fifteen books of the Metamorphoses, counting approximately 250 stories and spanning from the first chaotic moments of creation to the rise of Rome, is his most ambitious work. Ovid was banished from Rome in 8 AD for immorality before the Metamorphoses was completed, and issues of speech and silencing run through the tales like a thread, always reminding the reader of their storyteller’s unjust exile to Tomis. Almost twenty percent of the tales Ovid tells recount silencing of a kind and speech loss has long been identified by scholars as a key aspect of the transformations.[4]

Arthur Golding was born in Essex in 1536, and although he dropped out of university during the reign of Queen Mary, he read the classics thoroughly as a young man and their translations from the Latin and French became his life’s work. His 1567 translation of the Metamorphoseswas the first to translate directly from Latin into English, and it rapidly became the standard Ovid in English, remembered now as “Shakespeare’s Ovid”. Its popularity inspired a wave of Elizabethan translations of Ovid’s works, and its significance to the English literary canon was seemingly confirmed, when in 1915, Ezra Pound deemed it, “The most beautiful book in the language”. Golding also produced numerous volumes of John Calvin’s sermons and treatises, a translation of Caesar’s Commentaries, an account of a 1573 murder that took place in London, and an account of the London earthquake of 1580.

Of all the women in The Legend of Good Women, it is Medea who gets the shortest shrift. Her tale is not even given its own space, instead compressed into one alongside Hypsipyle (her predecessor in Jason’s affections). The entire episode spans a mere 310 lines and at barely one hundred lines, Medea’s legend is reduced to a footnote in what is essentially ‘The Legend of Jason’. The passionate, emotional Medea who Ovid first depicts in the Metamorphoses debating so hard with herself as she is torn between her familial duty and her overpowering love for Jason is absent in Chaucer’s retelling.

The Legend of Good Women is thought to have been written between 1380-1387 at the behest of Queen Anne of Bohemia, the consort of Richard II.  It follows Troilus & Criseyde in the chronology of Chaucer’s works (purportedly as an atonement for the wrongs Chaucer-the-poet did to women in general in his portrayal of Criseyde) and is usually regarded as a critical paradox: despite having had great time and effort expended upon it, it was apparently abandoned and is viewed by some as a failure. The Legend survives in twelve manuscripts, and there are two different versions of the prologue.

William Caxton is thought to have been born around 1422. After a period living and working as a merchant in Bruges and observing the development of new printing technology in Cologne, he partnered with a Fleming called Colard Mansion to open his own printing press. Their first publication was an English translation of the Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye in 1473, which Caxton himself translated. Upon his return to England, he is credited with opening the first printing press in 1476.

The History of Jason was first published c. 1477 and is Caxton’s English translation of a French romance by Raoul Lefèvre from c.1460. The History of Jason constructs Jason as a typical romance hero, and places a great deal of emphasis upon his previous marriage contract with the Queen Mirro to nullify his bond with Medea. However, once Mirro has died (shot with an arrow through the throat by Patroclus on the orders of King Aeson), the way is opened for Jason and Medea’s reunion.

Topics for discussion
• Thinking about translation, to what extent do the two versions of Ovid’s Medea count as different texts? Where are the differences? Why might these differences exist? Or has little enough changed in the approx. 450 years that they are still recognisably the same text?
• How do the beginnings of the Ovidian Medea and Chaucer’s ‘Legend of Hypsipyle’, set up different expectations for the texts?
• How is Jason portrayed throughout these texts, and how does that influence how we perceive Medea?
• Consider the three different endings these texts present for Medea. Is the ‘Happily Ever After’ Caxton gives Jason and Medea convincing in the light of the other versions of her tale?
• What tensions, fears, and anxieties might the figure of Medea have played upon and incited in the medieval and early modern period?
• Medea is foremost remembered as the mother who killed her sons. How useful are the various labels that have been attached to Medea – ‘murderess, necromancer and sorceress’[5] – when considering her construction as a character?
• What do we think of Medea? Is she a villain? A victim? Is she ever sympathetic?

[1] Siobhan McElduff, ‘The Multiple Medeas of the Middle Ages’, Ramus, Vol. 40, No. 2 (2012), p. 191.
[2] Geoffrey of Vinasuf, as quoted in Florence Percival, Chaucer’s Legendary Good Women (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 203
[3]Katherine Heavey, The Early Modern Medea: Medea in English Literature, 1558–1688, p. 1.
[4] Bartolo A. Natoli, Silenced Voices: The Poetics of Speech in Ovid(Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin press, 2017), p. 11.
[5] Florence Percival, Chaucer’s Legendary Good Women (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 203.

Tyranny, Tyrannicide and Medieval Political Theories of Kingship (31 October)


Gustave Doré’s 1857 illustration of Canto XII from Dante’s Inferno, depicting tyrants submerged in a river of boiling blood

The medieval period was obsessed with notions of kingship and tyranny. Writers from across western Europe, in both Latin and vernacular languages, interrogated concepts of legitimate leadership across a great variety of forms and genres. The ‘Mirror for Princes’ genre was one of the most well-known (and most direct) forms of such interrogations. Examples of this genre – emerging from as early at the ninth century – typically offered actual or imaginary leaders advice on the conduct of kings, often through forms of historical, legendary and biblical exempla. The great histories of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries similarly could employ examples of the reigns of former kings as mirrors to their own times, often using the obliqueness of time to both codify and conceal contemporary political commentaries. Those same centuries saw the flourishing of a new body of political treatises that would address kingship in even more direct fashion, including such works as John of Salisbury’s Policraticus (c. 1160) and Thomas Aquinas’ De regno (1267), which we will read this month.

Medieval notions of kingship and tyranny were influenced by a vast, and ever-growing, spectrum of texts, including the Bible, the works of Augustine, classical and contemporary histories, and the works of classical philosophers, such as Cicero and Aristotle. These political theories wove together divergent currents of thought that were both ancient and modern, attempting to reconcile theological discourses with philosophical concepts of natural law and the all-important question of tyrannicide. Moreover, they were also written for a wide spectrum of audiences, dedicated to Kings, Chancellors, and Archbishops, and read at both European courts and the Papal curia. The breadth of this readership meant that the didacticism inherent in any work on kingship must be carefully moderated and modulated in accordance with the demands of those leaders. Furthermore, the fascination with legitimate kingship and its tyrannical (but not altogether indistinguishable) other extended beyond the philosophical treatise, textbook and Latin history, and the genres of romance, fable and hagiography, among others, would frequently interrogate and dramatize notions of correct leadership, political legitimacy, usurpation and tyrannicide.

The Intellectual History of Tyranny

The word ‘tyrant’ originally derives from the Greek word ‘tyrannos’ (τύραννος), meaning ‘monarch’ or ‘leader of a polis’. In its earliest-recorded context, the term signified a authoritarian ruler, free of negative or illegitimate connotations. It was not until around the fifth century BCE that a distinction arose between a legitimate ruler, who ruled with the support of government and a tyrant, who did not. The first major interrogation of tyranny was conducted by Socrates (c. 470 – 399 BCE), who argued that, just as subjects had a duty to obey the laws, the ruler had a duty to ensure that laws were made honestly and with legitimate reason. Once one of these precepts were violated, the ruler was deemed a tyrant and the contract between polis and ruler was broken. This left subjects free to break the law in the service of the common good and, in certain situations, justified tyrannicide.

This view was broadly corroborated and expanded by later classical intellectuals, including Plato (c. 428 – c. 347), Aristotle (384 – 322 BCE) and Cicero (106 – 43 BCE). However, despite the post-Classical importance and prevalence of both Platonism and Neoplatonism, very few of either Plato’s or Aristotle’s works were available in the Middle Ages. As a result, the structuralist conception of government laid out in Book Seven of Plato’s Republic was glimpsed only through the works of Cicero, whose own De re publica was written in imitation of Plato’s great work and, emerging later still, through the works of Aristotle.

In contrast to the relatively clear-cut and homogenous attitude to tyranny (and, indeed, tyrannicide) evidenced by Classical philosophers, these theories became complicated with the emergence of Christianity, and especially the Church’s prohibition on murder. For instance, despite his familiarity with the works of Cicero and Neoplatonists such as Plotinus, Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430 CE) wrote nothing that could properly be termed political theory. As a result, both medieval and modern scholars have tended to extrapolate theories of statesmanship, kingship and tyranny from arguments on legitimate rule in a bid to construct something akin to an Augustinian theory on tyrannicide. These arguments have typically centred on Book XIX of his City of God. In Chapter 14 of that book, Augustine establishes a broad framework for the relationship between the ‘rulers’ and the ‘ruled’, arguing that ‘those who care for the rest rule (the husband the wife, the parents the children, the masters the servants); and they who are cared for obey (the women their husbands, the children their parents, the servants their masters)’ (City of God, XIX, 14). Although Augustine argues that slavery itself (in this interpretation analogous to the subjects of a ruler or tyrant) is only possible in a postlapsarian world, he argues that it must be tolerated because:

the apostle admonishes slaves to be subject to their masters, that they may themselves make their slavery in some sort free, by serving not in crafty fear, but in faithful love, until all unrighteousness passes away, and all principality and every human power be brought to nothing, and God be all in all. (City of God, XIX, 15)

This passage, read in this interpretive framework, has been broadly interpreted as Augustine’s belief that a tyrant, or unjust ruler, must be tolerated in this world because anything temporal is secondary to eternal life.

As a result, whilst tyranny remained a discourse that was both available to and utilised by medieval writers and historians, it would not become the subject of interrogation or theorisation in the Latin Middle Ages until 1159, when John of Salisbury (c. 1120 – 1180), one of the most important figures of the twelfth-century renaissance, completed his Policraticus – a political treatise dedicated to then-Chancellor Thomas Becket. A long, wide-ranging work that covers such issues as the body politic, kingship, contemporary history, the vices of the court and contains a sustained attack on flatterers, the Policraticus is most famous for its defence of tyrannicide. John’s is a powerful and comprehensive theory of tyranny, arguing that there are different types of tyrant: private tyrants, ecclesiastical tyrants and monarchical tyrants.

Whilst the Policraticus had a relatively small reach in the years following its completion, by the thirteenth century its influence was so wide that Frédérique Lachaud has rightly defined the text as ‘a cultural phenomenon’.[1] The full text survives in 60 manuscripts, and many more in abbreviated forms. More broadly, it was summarised, paraphrased, quoted, and even directly plagiarised, throughout the coming centuries and influenced the work of many twelfth- and thirteenth-century theologians, legalists, historiographers and poets, including: Peter of Blois (c. 1130 – c. 1211), Nigel Longchamp (d. 1200), the anonymous author of The Song of Lewes (1264), and Henry of Bracton (d. 1268), author of an extensive treatise on common law. It continued to be of influence in the early modern period, being printed at least twice in the sixteenth century (Paris, 1513; Leiden, 1593), and was almost certainly known to Ben Jonson who drew much material from it in Timber.

By the thirteenth century, however, the intellectual world was being revolutionised again by the mass translation of the works of Aristotle, including the Nicomachean Ethics and Politics. These translations, and the commentaries that soon followed, galvanised intellectual – and, consequently, political – thought and life; many of the men responsible went on to write significant commentaries on tyranny, applying the structural analyses of Aristotle to their own political circumstances. Robert Grosseteste, the influential Bishop of Lincoln, was responsible for the first extant Latin translation of the Nicomachean Ethics and notably sent an abbreviatio of his memorandum on tyranny to Simon de Montfort in May 1250. However, it was the Dominican Friar, Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274) who truly epitomised and championed the synthesisation of Aristotelian thought with the principles of Christianity.

Aquinas’ theories of kingship and the construction of society are based largely on Aristotle’s own distinctions (Monarchy, Autocracy/Tyranny, Aristocracy, Democracy, Oligarchy). Drawing, again, on the works of Aristotle, Aquinas argues that man is an inherently social and political creature. Unlike animals, which are each equipped with the necessary senses and instincts to survive entirely alone, man, he argues, is equipped with the reason necessary to gain knowledge, materials, aid and services from others better suited to each task than himself. This necessitates the existence of a collective, which, he argues, must be governed and led – preferably, as we will see, by a single individual. This Aristotelian and structuralist conception of society is the principal framework for his theories of both kingship and tyranny. Although Aquinas addresses these themes in a number of his works, including his Commentary on the Sentences (1252-56), and Summa Theologiae (1265-74), it receives its most extensive and exclusive treatment in the De regno (1267). This was Aquinas’ longest exclusively political work and was originally intended for Hugh II of Lusignan, King of Cyprus. However, following the intended recipient’s death in 1267, Aquinas abandoned the work, completing only the first Book and the first six chapters of Book Two. The work was taken up and completed by Tolommeo of Luca.

Today we are reading extracts from John of Salisbury’s Policraticus and Thomas Aquinas’ De regno to interrogate how political thought on both kingship and tyranny evolved over the course of the Middle Ages.


Questions/Topics for Consideration:

  • How do these texts present a) kingship and b) tyranny? To what extent are the two constructions inter-reliant and interrelated? How do these constructions vary between texts?
  • To what extent are these texts similar? Different? What are the effects and meanings of these similarities and differences?
  • How do these texts negotiate authority – whether secular, religious, textual, patristic?
  • What do they mean for contemporary kingship and constructions of kingship?
  • As texts fundamentally to do with power, how does the nature of the dialectic between text and power function in each source?
  • How political are the texts themselves?
  • Thinking of your own research and what you know of the twelfth- and thirteenth-century contexts of these texts, how do their theories (and the repercussion of those theories) impact or reflect broader societal and literary concerns?
  • How do these texts make use of their authorities both implicitly and explicitly?

[1] Frédérique Lachaud, ‘The Medieval Afterlife of the Policraticus’, in A Companion to John of Salisbury, ed. by Christophe Grelland and Frédérique Lachaud (Leiden: Brill, 2014), pp. 377-438 (p. 377).

Medieval Ghost Stories: miracula, mirabilia, prodigiosa (August 15, 2018)


Ghost, spectre, wraith, spirit, shade, spook, phantom, apparition, poltergeist, bogey, haint – the profusion of terms, with their different origins and linguistic histories, with sometimes distinct but often overlapping meanings, testifies to a continuing, evolving but seemingly fundamental anxiety concerned with the possibility of an afterlife and, more specifically, the idea of a restless soul or spirit of the deceased. From the vapours of Homer’s Odyssey to Plutarch’s account of the ghost of a murdered man, haunting the baths at Chaeronea, whose groans and shrieks caused terror amongst the people, or from the ghost of Hamlet’s murdered father urging vengeance to Sweet William’s Ghost (Child Ballad 77), begging his still-alive fiancée to free him from his promise to marry her, literary ghost stories have taken a plethora of forms and functions.

Medieval ghost stories are both like and unlike earlier and later spectral traditions. Predominantly taking the form of unquiet spirits – souls of men and women caught between heaven and hell – they have often been seen as inhabiting a textual space somewhere between Christian teaching and vernacular belief, though as this month’s reading testifies much theological thought could be bound up in the spectral matters, while popular folkloric beliefs existing beneath – and separate to – Christian orthodoxy are rarely easily apparent, despite the best efforts of some historians of medieval popular culture. While the modern ghost story often aims to entertain the reader by frisson, the pleasurable enjoyments of medieval ghost stories are often various: they could be morally edifying, spiritually consoling, and occasionally downright terrifying.

Early Church writers and Latin historians are largely quiet on ghostly matters. St Augustine of Hippo in the De cura pro mortuis gerenda (c. 420-22) was adamant that the dead could have no influence on the lives of the living; and gave little credence to accounts of the spectral return, whether in dream or in waking life. At best, such visions of the dead were the workings of God; usually they were the manifestations of error. Pope Gregory the Great in his Dialogi of c. 592, however, seems to have accepted the presence of ghosts – specifically, restless, penitent souls – as part and parcel of the Christian experience. Nonetheless, Augustine’s views seem to have held sway – or perhaps it was simply that, in that age of Christian expansion, tales of spectres and the restless undead were too close to non-Christian belief systems.

Whether it was a result of the doom-laded portents surrounding the year 1000, the development of the concept and place of Purgatory in the early twelfth century, or the great outpouring of Latin literature – and especially the historiographical renaissance of the 1100s – that reanimated earlier suppressed vernacular beliefs in ghosts and other folkloric anxieties, from the turn of the first millennium the ghost returned to haunt the pens and imagination of many Latin writers.

Some Churchmen saw the potential for capital – both spiritual and financial – in the fascination with ghost stories. Peter the Venerable (c. 1092-1156), abbot of Cluny, at the zenith of its power under his authority, included several tales of ghostly apparitions in his De miraculis, representing ‘the pinnacle of the twelfth-century use of the ghost story for the specific institutional advantage of a monastic foundation. Many of these stories demonstrate Peter’s “external” political concern to defend Cluny’s interests as a territorial and financial unit’. In one tale from the De miraculis, for instance, the ghost of a baron appears, begging the forgiveness of the abbot for encroaching on lands near the abbey’s holdings.

Many other writings were less materialistic in orientation. Jacques Le Goff ties the outpouring of ghostly complaints to the consolidation of the belief in Purgatory around the twelfth century. Certainly a common theme of such tales at this time centre on spirits condemned for a specific time to Purgatory to atone for transgressions in their life, and who seek the help of the living to alleviate their torments – typically through intercessional prayer.

The narratives of these ghostly miracula show evidence of the influence of Gregory the Great. Other writers, such as William of Malmesbury and Gervase of Tilbury, seem to recount stories of the undead in a different, but never wholly unrelated, form of the mirabilia, or marvel. Such tales of wonder could serve many purposes. William, for instance, recounts his ghostly tales as means of registering his disquiet over necromancy and, perhaps, to associate it with certain forms of continental speculative philosophy. Gervase of Tilbury, however, adapted the form to a less strenuously ethical mode: for him, mirabilia were predominantly tales of sophisticated court entertainments. Related to mirabilia are the prodigiosa or ‘unnatural marvels’ of William of Newburgh, contained within his Historia rerum Anglicarum, and which are, perhaps, neither as didactic as William of Malmesbury’s ghostly tales, nor as overtly entertaining as Gervase’s slightly later spectral diversions.

Despite some of these generic, formal considerations of miracula, mirabilia and prodigiosa, it should be noted that any distinctions are hazy, and insisting on easy classifications is a pointless task. Ghost stories, like ghosts themselves, are liminal entities, existing at the margins of generic classifications, or buried deeply – though perhaps not too permanently – within a morass of other textual matters and materials. Tales of spectres rarely stand alone. Just as modern ghost stories may be contained within horror fiction, stories of the supernatural, or tales of the paranormal, or within a range of larger genres – weird fiction, thrillers, the gothic – so medieval ghost stories exist within a multitude of literary forms and genres: religious exempla, theological textbooks, the histories of a people, specula of marvellous phenomena, romances, sagas. They could be, and usually were, grouped with other miraculous, marvellous or ‘unnatural’ phenomena – tales that many, of later generations, might want to describe as uncanny. Indeed, there is something curiously pervasive in the ghost story, as it reappears again and again in new forms, alongside new tales, and contradictory theologies.

This month’s reading consists of selections from five important, and diverse, writers. Though the extensiveness of medieval writings on spectres is at least as wide as modern and contemporary writings on ghosts, I have here selected only clerical writings in Latin. A future reading group may wish to consider later vernacular writings on spectral encounters, and in a wider range of genres.

The first set of extracts are taken from two of the most important Latin Church Fathers, St Augustine of Hippo (354-430) and Pope St Gregory the Great (c. 540-604). Though their respective writings on spectral afterlives are short, their influence on later ecclesiastical writers was profound. Crucially, they assumed very different positions of the possibility of ghostly hauntings. For Augustine, famously, the dead, by their very nature, have no ability to interfere with the lives of the living. The spirits of the dead, awaiting judgement, have no ability to appear to the living – at least of their own volition. For Gregory, as so often, the position seems to have been different. Not only can the unquiet spirits of the dead appear (at least to learned, pious men), but they can also ask for service from the living. The extracts are taken from Augustine’s De cura pro mortuis gerenda (c. 420), a letter written to his fellow bishop, Paulinus, detailing the care to be had for the dead, and the fourth book of Gregory’s Dialogi (c. 593), which deals with the souls of ordinary Christians. The latter proved influential on later writers’ use of the ghost story as miracula, ‘in that they are not hagiographical accounts of saintly episodes but stories which use the extraordinary – the appearance after their death of ordinary people – to uphold and exemplify theological or moral points which the writer wishes to emphasise.’

The second group of spectral tales come from three English writers of the twelfth and early thirteenth century: William of Malmesbury, William of Newburgh and Gervase of Tilbury. William of Malmesbury (c. 1090-1143) was an enormously important historian of the twelfth century – at the very vanguard of the historiographical renaissance that was to include Henry of Huntingdon, Geoffrey of Monmouth and William of Newburgh. His De gestis regum Anglorum (Deeds of the English Kings) was begun in 1125 and, indebted to Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (731), represents highpoint in the revival of English literary and intellectual culture following the post-Conquest years. As Rodney M. Thompson notes, ‘in his scholarly and literary achievement William is on the one hand unique and outstanding, on the other representative of his concerns, traditions, virtues and limitations of Benedictine monasticism. He was living near the end of the great age of Benedictine scholarship, and though he apparently sensed that new forces were at work, associated with the continental Schools, he had little contact with them.’ Within his broad gestis are various anecdotes of the deeds of supernatural events, which are notably free of historical scrutiny. Also noteworthy is William’s disapproval of certain acts of necromancy (communication with, and/or summoning of the dead), which in the tale of Two Clerks of Nantes he associates with speculative philosophy.

The Yorkshire canon, William of Newburgh (1136-98), included a short collection of prodigiosa, or unnatural marvels, within his Historia rerum Anglicarum (History of English Affairs). The subject of previous MEMORI reading groups [here], William’s work is of great importance to historians of the twelfth century, as well as students of historiography. His famously well-balanced, considered and at times idiosyncratic history of contemporary English affairs led him to be described as ‘the father of historical criticism’ by Edward Augustus Freeman in the nineteenth century. Parts of his work has also proven attractive to those working in folklore studies (as well as more dubious historians of the paranormal) for its depiction – questioning, open-minded, sometimes hesitant – of revenants, vampires and the famous ‘green children’ of St Martin’s Land. In his account of the Buckinghamshire Ghost, the Berwick Ghost and the Hound’s Priest, several critics have seen what they estimate to be Scandinavian influence – and a general belief in the former Danelaw in the existence of monstrous nightstalkers. Unlike several other monastic depictions of ghosts at this time, it is notable how important the role of lay persons – as opposed to the priests – are in the resolution of the narratives.

Gervase of Tilbury (c. 1150-1220) was an English canon lawyer, statesman and writer. Born in Tilbury, Essex, a manor in the hands of Henry II, Gervase spent most of his working life within the extensive Angevin network across northern and western Europe. He travelled widely, taught canon law at Bologna, found service in the court of William II of Sicily, Henry of Anjou, and William of Champagne, Archbishop of Reims. Sometime after the death of William II of Sicily, Gervase settled in Arles, and was later made Marshal of the Kingdom of Arles by Otto IV, Holy Roman Emperor (and grandson of Henry II). Between 1210 and 1214 Gervase wrote Otia imperialia (Imperial entertainments) for his patron, as well as some devotional works. The Otia imperialia is an encyclopaedia of mirabilia (or marvels), and an important example of speculum literature. As a survey (speculum), the book is divided into three parts – history, geography and physics – and contains a wealth of many tales and wonders, including several ‘ghost stories’, all of which were devised as courtly, intellectual entertainments for Otto’s court.

Questions for discussion
1. How do Augustine and Gregory negotiate what we may loosely consider as ‘classical’ (or, in other instances, Judaic) traditions relating to funerary rites, and/or conceptions of the spectre?
2. What are the purposes/roles of Augustine’s and Gregory’s writings?
3. Is it possible to reconcile Augustine’s and Gregory’s writings on spectres, or are they mutually exclusive?
4. Do (all) these Latin writers present similar or very different conceptions of (a) ghosts and (b) ghost stories when compared to modern and contemporary presentations of spectres and spectral narratives?
5. Consider the corporeality (or incorporeal nature) of the ghosts in these texts
6. Ghost, revenant, spectre, spook, apparition, nightstalker, shade – is a taxonomy of ‘ghosts’ possible? Is it useful?
7. To what extent do these texts reveal an interplay between Church teaching and popular folklore?
8. Miracula, mirabilia, prodigiosa – to what extent do the generic literary presentations of these ghost stories affect the way we understand them?
9. Given all this generic and formal play – messiness, might be a better word – the obvious question is, what counts as a ghost story?