Best Medieval Literature

The best literature written in the medieval period (loosely defined as anything between the fall of the Roman Empire and the Reformation).
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160 books · 128 voters · list created January 13th, 2009 by Abi (votes) .
107 likes · 
Lists are re-scored approximately every 5 minutes.


Abi 378 books
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Susanna - Censored by GoodReads 3263 books
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jo 2567 books
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Greyweather 2660 books
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Lindsay 700 books
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Lisa 857 books
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Bettie 15637 books
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Ryan Patrick 896 books
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Comments Showing 1-31 of 31 (31 new)

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Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large) I'd like to add some of the books on this list to the respective "Best Books of the ... Century" lists (to the extent they are primary publications and aren't on the relevant lists already, that is) ... but again I'm finding I can't do so; either because they aren't catalogued with the year of their actual first publication at all, or because the year stated is incorrect as far as the respective work itself is concerned (e.g., the Venerable Bede certainly did NOT write in 1930, and similarly 1616 is way off for the letters of Abelard and Héloise even if you disregard the time when the letters were actually written -- early 12th century -- and accept that the manuscript containing them was (re)discovered at some point in the 15th century) ... and, yes, I know that some of the TRANSLATIONS in question do date from the years indicated (e.g. 1957 for Dorothy Sayers's translation of "The Song of Roland"). Surely that distinction can be dealt with accordingly, however?

Could I trouble someone with librarian privileges with the request to amend the respective entries? Thanks in advance ...

The books in question are:

Pizan - Ditié de Jehanne d'Arc
Abelard - Story of My Misfortunes
Abelard & Héloise - Letters
Bede - Ecclesiastical History of the English People
Anonymous - Mabinogion
Anonymous - Queste del Saint Graal
Anonymous - Song of Roland
Villehardouin - Conquest of Constantinople
Joinville - Vie de Saint Louis
Anonymous - Nibelungenlied
Anonymous - Saga of the Volsungs
Anonymous - Njal's Saga
Anonymous - Egil's Saga
Anonymous - Laxdaela Saga
Hildegard of Bingen - Scivias
Hildegard of Bingen - Physica
Margery Kempe - The Book of Margery Kempe
Julian of Norwich - Revelations of Divine Love
Marie de France - Lais
Lorris/Meun - Romance of the Rose
Ibn Sina (Avicenna) - Metaphysics of the Healing


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads Done:

the Lais of Marie de France
Ditie de Jehanne d'Arc, by Christine de Pizan
Ecclesiatical History of the English People, by the Venerable Bede
Scivias, by Hildegard of Bingen
The Book of Margery Kempe, by Margery Kempe
Revelations of Divine Love, by Julian of Norwich


Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large) Susanna, you're a star!! Thank you so much!!


Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large) Another addition (sorry ...!!):

"Blind Harry's Wallace" -- originally written ca. 1477, even though William Hamilton's translation (with which it is most commonly associated) dates from 1722 ... and was republished in 1998, which is the date shown in the Goodreads catalogue.

That said, I'll try to help tracking down publication dates for Peter Abelard. I know they're hard to pin down!


message 5: by Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (last edited Jan 14, 2010 12:49PM) (new)

Susanna - Censored by GoodReads No problem.

I did the ones I could find some kind of good date for.

Oh, and added:

Blind Harry's Wallace, by William Hamilton.


Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large) Thanks again!!

Btw, here's what Wikipedia ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mabinogion ) says re: creation and first publication of the tales contained in the Mabinogion:

"The stories of the Mabinogion appear in either or both of two Medieval Welsh manuscripts, the White Book of Rhydderch (Llyfr Gwyn Rhydderch) written ca. 1350, and the Red Book of Hergest (Llyfr Coch Hergest) written about 1382–1410, although texts or fragments of some of the tales have been preserved in earlier 13th century and later manuscripts. Scholars agree that the tales are older than the existing manuscripts, but disagree over just how much older. It is clear that the different texts included in the Mabinogion originated at different times. Debate has focused on the dating of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi. Sir Ifor Williams offered a date prior to 1100, based on linguistic and historical arguments, while later Saunders Lewis set forth a number of arguments for a date between 1170 and 1190; Thomas Charles-Edwards, in a paper published in 1970, discussed the strengths and weaknesses of both viewpoints, and while critical of the arguments of both scholars, noted that the language of the stories best fits the period between 1000 and 1100, although much more work is needed. More recently, Patrick Sims-Williams argued for a plausible range of about 1060 to 1200, and this seems to be the current scholarly consensus."

Is that enough certainty to use some publication date in the Goodreads catalogue that would allow the book's inclusion in the "Best books of the 12th Century" list (since that seems the most likely period, according to current thinking)? After all, the Goodreads entry for Beowulf is a flat "1000 A.D." -- even though there is reason to believe that the story actually dates from as early as the 8th century ...


Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large) Did some more digging and found (all years are A.D., of course):

Chrétien de Troyes, Arthurian Romances: all five romances contained in the edition listed here were published around 1170
Queste del Saint Graal (4th part of the so-called Lancelot Graal): ca. 1230
Song of Roland: between 1140 and 1170
Villehardouin, Conquest of Constantinople: ca. 1207-12
Joinville, Vie de Saint Louis: ca. 1309
Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks: completed in 594, albeit the surviving manuscripts date from later periods (the oldest fragment from the 7th century, others from the 11th and 15th centuries)
Nibelungenlied: ca. 1204 (or a little earlier)
Saga of the Volsungs: the text known under that title is an early 13th century transcript of a much older legend, originally transmitted orally
Njal's Saga: 13th century
Egil's Saga: oldest transcript 1240
Laxdaela Saga: ca. 1245
Everyman: most likely 1485-95
Hildegard of Bingen, Physica: ca. 1150s
Romance of the Rose: first part by de Meun ca. 1230, second part by de Lorris ca. 1275
Avicenna (Ibn Sina), Book of Healing: 1027

And:

Peter Abelard, Story of My Misfortunes: ca. 1135
Abelard & Héloise, Letters: written between ca. 1137 and 1141 (though first published only in the 15th century)


message 8: by Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (last edited Jan 15, 2010 10:41AM) (new)

Susanna - Censored by GoodReads Done:

The Conquest of Constantinople, by Geoffrey de Villehardouin
La Vie de Saint-Louis, by Jean de Joinville
Egil's Saga
Laxdaela Saga
Physica, by Hildegard of Bingen

Is Avicenna's "Book of Healing" the same as the Canon of Medicine?

Since this is a list of Medieval literature, I have a problem with Richard Wagner being on it.


Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large) Avicenna's "Book of Healing" is a philosophical and scientific encyclopedia; his "Canon of Medicine" -- which is a different work -- would become the standard medical text used by universities at the time.

Agree on Wagner (besides, two editions of the actual Nibelungenlied are on this list already.

BTW: I've asked for and been granted librarian status myself now, but will hold back on my above requests because I realize that dating some of these texts is somewhat iffy and I'd rather defer to your greater experience here. But in any event I wanted to thank you again for taking up all the requests I've been throwing at librarians lately!


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads I haven't been a librarian that long either - so I'm very leery of dates on some of these medieval ones!

I enjoy doing it, though.


Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large) OK. I did a few that I feel reasonably certain about:

Queste del Saint Graal,
Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks,
Nibelungenlied,
Everyman,
Avicenna, Book of Healing,
Abélard, Story of My Misfortunes.

Still prefer to hold back on the others, though ...


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads Still question the presence of Richard Wagner on this list, as it is supposed to be one of medieval literature, and not based on it, or about the middle ages.


Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large) Yes -- there is a bunch of material on this list that doesn't actually constitute/consist of primary medieval texts (albeit typically in translation), but rather, novels or other narrative material based on medieval material (e.g., in addition to the Wagner "Ring" score/libretto, Hohlbein's "Hagen von Tronje," which is a novel based on the Nibelungenlied) or scholarly reviews/essays/presentations/speeches given on certain medieval texts (e.g. Berger's bibliography of criticism on medieval English drama, and Gneuss's "Battle of Maldon als historisches und literarisches Zeugnis," which is the transcript of a 1975 presentation given on the Battle of Maldon).

This not being a list of my own -- and me having been granted librarian status only fairly recently -- I nevertheless hesitate to step in with a snap judgment of my own what should and shouldn't remain, though.

Maybe we could have some input from Abi, who actually created the list?


message 14: by Abi (new)

Abi Yeah, I haven't really been checking on it, but I definitely did mean works written in the medieval period, not about the medieval period or based on medieval texts. Anything written (not including translations of course) much after the 15th century should not be on here. I thought that was clear from the description, but I suppose people didn't read it / care. I'm happy for you to use your judgement to delete books that aren't applicable, or I can go through it.


message 15: by Abi (new)

Abi Not sure where I stand on retellings (as opposed to translations) like that version of 1001 Arabian Nights... my instinct is to say that they shouldn't be here.


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads Removed for not being medieval:

Ring of the Niebenlung, by Richard Wagner

What is Mankynde in Shakespeare? If it is about Shakespeare, I am tempted to say it is not medieval.


Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large) Removed "Die Battle of Maldon als historisches und literarisches Zeugnis: Vorgetr. am 4. Juli 1975" by Helmut Gneuss (it's a 1975 presentation ON the Battle of Maldon).

And I would tend to agree on Mankynde in Shakespeare.


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads Mr. Creeth's other book is a book on the Tudor theater. I suggest we remove this one; it would seem to be about Shakespeare.


message 19: by Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large) (last edited Feb 22, 2010 09:55AM) (new)

Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large) Done.

Also removed Thomas Disch's The Castle of Perseverance: Job Opportunities in Contemporary Poetry (it's not actually an edition of the 15th century morality play, but a book on modern/contemporary poetry which just happens to be named for the medieval play).

ETA: Dito Hagen von Tronje. Ein Nibelungen- Roman. ( Ab 14 J.). by Wolfgang Hohlbein, which is a modern YA novel based on the Nibelung legend/saga.


message 20: by Abi (new)

Abi I went ahead and deleted the modern retellings of the legend of King Arthur and 1001 Arabian Nights. Retellings are not medieval literature.


Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large) Deleted The Mists of Avalon (decidedly not written IN the Middle Ages, either).


message 22: by Jain (new)

Jain Deleted The Mabinogion Tetralogy (20th century retelling of The Mabinogion).


message 23: by John (new)

John Medieval usually refers to a period of European history, but I notice some non-Western books here (such as Tale of Genji), so I am going to add some more. If these are considered outside the scope of the list, please feel free to delete them.


message 24: by KayTea (new)

KayTea Could someone with the ability please remove Sharon Kay Penman's The Sunne in Splendour

As much as I love her, she is a modern author.


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads Will remove that and The Handfasted Wife, which is also modern historical fiction.


message 26: by KayTea (new)

KayTea Thanks Susanna!

Question for you, since we are on the topic. Who has the ability to remove books from lists?


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads GR Librarians.


message 28: by Monty (new)

Monty Circus Removed "The Mirror & the Light" by Hilary Mantel as it is 21st century historical fiction and not written in medieval times.

Actually, this book is set in 1536 so one could argue it's not even SET in medieval times!


message 29: by BookLovingLady (last edited Jan 21, 2021 10:43PM) (new)

BookLovingLady Monty wrote: "Actually, this book is set in 1536..."

The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes (#77) is on this list. In my opinion it shouldn't be, as it is dated 1554...


message 30: by Monty (new)

Monty Circus Booklovinglady wrote: "The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes (#77) is on this list. In my opinion it shouldn't be, as it is dated 1554..."

If it were up to me, for simplicity sake I would make the list a hard 400-1500 window. But I would want more of a consensus before deleting books in and around those dates.

What say you GoodReaders?


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads I'm going to say 1554 is not medieval.


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