Literature in the Middle Ages

Table of Content


One of the most notable aspects of the Middle Ages (500-1500) is its literature. Literature during the Middle Ages focused on the military exploits of the aristocracy, as well as on the values of courage, loyalty and chivalry. As a result, it is revealed that people during the Middle Ages valued neither religious truth nor codes of conduct, but working out their individual destinies.

This essay could be plagiarized. Get your custom essay
“Dirty Pretty Things” Acts of Desperation: The State of Being Desperate
128 writers

ready to help you now

Get original paper

Without paying upfront

What time period does the Middle Ages roughly cover?

The Middle Ages roughly cover the thousand years from 500 to 1500 (Client File, n.d.).  The first culture that influenced and transformed the Roman and Greek cultures and eventually produced the culture of the Middle Ages was the Germanic culture of the of the tribes who invaded and, by the fifth century, had effectively conquered the western half of the Roman empire.

The second culture was Christianity, which began in Palestine and then quickly spread throughout the empire until almost all of Western Europe was thoroughly Christianized by the eleventh century. The third culture was Islam, which arose from the Arabian Peninsula in the seventh century and quickly spread throughout North Africa and into the Iberian Peninsula, where it remained a powerful force until the fifteenth century (Client File, n.d.).

Why is the Middle Ages called that?

The Middle Ages is called as such because it was considered a period that separated the Era of Antiquity from the Renaissance (Client File, n.d.).

The Song of Roland promotes what religion over what?

The Song of Roland unabashedly promoted the superiority of Christianity over Islam. However, Islam proved to be a superior religion in the Middle Ages. By the ninth century, Islamic scholars had translated much of Greek science and philosophy into Arabic, preserving and enriching this tradition at the very time it was in decline in Western Europe. In addition, Muslim centers of learning in Spain, Sicily and southern Italy in the beginning of the twelfth century made it possible for European scholars to regain access to these Greek originals and to study their Muslim commentators (Client File, n.d.).

What is a thematic contradiction that this poem contains which deals with differing culture influences?

Although The Song of Roland exalts a great warrior according to Germanic traditions of military heroism, it also affirms the necessity of subordinating individual accomplishment to the needs of a unified Christian community (Client File, n.d.).

The editor mentions two descriptions for this time period that includes the terms “age of…” What are these two general descriptions?

The two general descriptions for the Middle Ages are the “Age of Faith” and the “Age of Chivalry.” The Middle Ages is referred to as the “Age of Faith” because people during this period shared a uniform commitment to Catholic Christianity. The fall of the Roman Empire resulted in widespread political, economic and social chaos. As a result, people solace in religion. The Roman Catholic Church, with its competent leadership and teachings on eternal life in Heaven, was viewed as the hope for humanity’s future (Client File, n.d.).

As the Middle Ages progressed, the church extended its spiritual and institutional authority across most of Europe. Europe had become virtually identical with Christendom by 1200, with the exception of beleaguered Jewish communities, the area of the Iberian Peninsula under Muslim control and frontier lands in the Slavic east. The pope wielded spiritual, as well as secular, supremacy. He interfered in the affairs of both the church and the state (Client File, n.d.).

The Middle Ages is likewise known as the “Age of Chivalry” because it was characterized with the emergence of a society that emphasized heraldry, knighthood and courtly living. Men were expected to honor and serve women. Women, in turn, were to be subservient to men. Ordinary people were required to be loyal and obedient to the church and to the nobles (Client File, n.d.).

According to the editor, what does the literature of this time period reveal about how people allowed their faith to affect their daily lives?

Literature during the Middle Ages revealed that although medieval people acknowledged the primacy of Christian doctrine and the ritual practices that went with it (baptism, communion, confession, etc.), not all accepted the concepts of a single form of Christianity and the primacy of religious values. Furthermore, most medieval people took the central doctrines of Christianity so much for granted that their daily lives appeared to be largely untroubled by the moral and spiritual demands of religion.

For instance, the Lais of Marie de France and the vernacular love lyrics depicted men and women leading their romantic lives without giving much, if any thought, to Christian standards of behavior. Boccaccio’s Decameron adapted a more satiric vein by often providing an acerbic and witty puncturing of the pretensions of individual churchmen. The lecherous priest, the greedy friar, the wayward nun and the gluttonous monk became the stock characters of medieval satire (Client File, n.d.).

The Germanic epic Beowulf was another pressure point at which Christian doctrine was tested. It was written by a Christian, who, despite his faith, deeply admires the pagan past that Christianity abhors. The Divine Comedy reflected Dante’s dilemma between adhering to the Christian faith and embracing the Classical Era. In the Inferno and the Purgatorio, he referred to the pagan poet Virgil as “my author and my father.” The Middle Ages is an age of faith, but it was likewise characterized with the conflict between the Era of Antiquity and the advent of Christianity (Client File, n.d.).

Medieval literature tended to express the values of which class of society? What values did this encompass?

Medieval literature expressed the values of the aristocracy. The aristocracy was the most powerful class in medieval society. It achieved its domination through military might – it imposed its will upon its neighbors in exchange for protecting them from invaders like the Vikings from the north, the Magyars and the Mongols from the east and the various Islamic peoples from the south. At times, the aristocracy itself became the invader, particularly in the various crusading expeditions that began in the eleventh century against Islam in the Iberian Peninsula and the Levant and, later, against the Slavs in present-day Eastern Europe (Client File, n.d.).

Thus, it is no longer surprising if medieval literature celebrated values associated with military practices. These values included unwavering valor in the face of danger, loyalty to one’s leader and companions and an intense concern with personal honor. Also incorporated was an explicit code of chivalry, which stressed gentility of demeanor, generosity of both spirit and material goods, concern for the well-being of the powerless and, above all, a capacity for experiencing romantic love that was both selfless and passionate. It is undeniable that many medieval men believed in these ideals and strove hard to achieve them (Client File, n.d.).

But there is a likelihood that many other members of medieval society, especially non-nobles like churchmen, urban dwellers and peasants, interpreted chivalry as merely a fancy name for the strong imposition of force upon the powerless. This construal was derived from the inconsistencies of chivalric values. Both Beowulf and The Song of Roland discussed the predicament of drawing the line between personal bravery and attending to the needs of the group. In addition, can an individual be a full-hearted lover and a loyal warrior at the same time? Can the same person perform both the deeds of war and those of civilization? (Client File, n.d.)

What does the editor conclude is the central concern of medieval literature?

The editor concluded that the central concern of medieval literature is human beings working out their individual destinies. Indeed, the most unforgettable protagonists of medieval literature – Robin Hood, Sir Gawain, Beowulf, the pilgrims of The Canterbury Tales and the lost souls of the Inferno – are persons or groups whose fates are strongly connected to the process of achieving a certain goal, as well as to the aftermath of attaining that objective.

The heroes of medieval literature reveal their true nature in the struggles that they encounter, be it searching for the road to salvation, killing monsters, battling pagan enemies or hoodwinking unwary dupes. In the process, readers can identify themselves more with these personalities (Client File, n.d.).


Cite this page

Literature in the Middle Ages. (2017, Jan 06). Retrieved from

Remember! This essay was written by a student

You can get a custom paper by one of our expert writers

Order custom paper Without paying upfront