Heroes & Infidels: Masculine Identity and The Birth of Europe in Medieval Romance Classics (ROMLG-375)

Heroes and Infidels

Instructor: Martino Lovato

Offered Spring 2018

The study of European medieval epic poems helps to understand the origins of present-day anxieties towards cultural and religious pluralism in Western societies and to question the role of past and present wars against the “infidel” in the shaping of the modern world. At the same time, the current fashion of medievalist novels and popular tv-series confirms that the medieval heritage still affects the way in which the Western world conceives itself and, in turn, looks at other peoples and other societies.

In this course, you will read the legendary exploits of heroes and paladins in canonical texts such as The Song of Roland, The Song of My Cid, Orlando Furioso and Os Lusíadas, classic poems that have shaped the national identity of modern European countries such as Spain, France, Italy, and Portugal. These works have informed the centuries-long European tradition of chivalry and knighthood, and have been employed to promote European national and colonial enterprises. Wrapped in religious awe, magic, and marvel, however, the world they present is more nuanced and diverse than that provided by nationalist readings celebrating the military deeds of their protagonists.

Through a close reading of the performed masculinity of heroes, foes, and mediators between worlds at war, in this course you will learn how to employ a postcolonial critical approach to the study of the Middle Ages—an age distinct, yet not so unlike our own,—investigating the dark side of hero-worship: where ambition and greed, partisan rivalries and internal class struggle play a major role in the forging an enemy out of the cultural and religious Other.

Taught in English, students who want to receive credit for Romance Languages, French, Italian, Spanish must do their work in the target language.

Please see the selecting courses page for more details on the first-year seminar.