Abstracts. 2021 Conference on (Mis)Communication, Translation, and Community


Najlaa Ramadan Abdulaziz Aldeeb, Swansea University, UK: Deconstructing the (Mis)Interpretation of Paratextual Elements in Ross’s English Translation of the Qur’an, The Alcoran of Mahomet (1649)

This  paper will begin by explaining briefly what Alexander Ross, chaplain to Charles I of England, did to publish his English translation of the Qur’an in 1649, a time of great political and social turmoil in England, marked by a civil war, regicide, and suppression of voices. I will then discuss how the anti-Islam attachments before the target text (TT) were the reason for giving Ross permission to publish and circulate his translation and what this publication tells about the relationship between European-Christian and the Arab countries at that time. I will also deconstruct the claim that all Orientalists, non-Arab, and non-Muslim translators of the Qur’an, including Ross, were anti-Islamic. To achieve this aim, I will analytically compare Ross’s translation with its source text (ST) by André du Ryer, a French Orientalist who was a diplomatic envoy to Constantinople and French consul to Alexandria, and with other translations including George Sale’s (1734). I will note how Ross’s paratextual elements reveal that Mahomet was used as a metaphor for Oliver Cromwell[1] since Ross rendered the ST faithfully and did not deviate the Qur’anic verses about Mohammad.


[1] See: Nabil Matar, “Alexander Ross and the First English Translation of the Qur’an,”  Muslim World 88.1 (1998):  81-92.


Sally Abed, University of Alexandria, Egypt: Thus, Spoke the Monster: The Language of Monsters in Medieval Arab Writings

In some medieval Arab writings, there are references to a certain monstrous race called Nasnas endowed with reason and speech. The encounter between this race and people is interesting since it makes us question what a monster is according to medieval Arab culture, the kind of language s/he speaks, and the relationship between reason and human/monster. The paper focuses on the communication that takes place between the human and the non-human, and the context of such communication, along with a translation of the speech of monsters. The Nasnas features in important works, such as the medieval 1001 Nights and all the way to Gustave Flaubert’s 19th century novel The Temptation of Saint Anthony.

Jane Beal, University of La Verne, CA: The Chaucerian Translator

Chaucer’s narrator is a multifaceted character within most of his works. In The Canterbury Tales, the Chaucerian narrator is best-known to both students and scholars as “Chaucer the Pilgrim,” in order to distinguish him from Chaucer the author. The narrator-pilgrim is an essential part of the “frame narrative,” meeting with Harry Bailey, the host, at the Tabard Inn along with the other pilgrims and telling his own tale on the journey to Canterbury, “Sir Thopas.” Chaucer’s narrator plays a significant role in other works, too:  he appears to be a naivë, over-awed, sleep-deprived dreamer in Book of the Duchess, House of Fame, and Parliament of Fowls; like Troilus, he apparently falls in love with Criseyde himself in Chaucer-the-author’s Trojan romance, Troilus and Criseyde. The distance between the narrator’s and the author’s voice seems to collapse to almost nothing in some of his lyric poems and the Treatise on an Astrolabe, dedicated to “little Louis,” the author’s son, but the distinction between the two still holds. This can be understood in part, from a literary-critical perspective, by the fact that the Chaucerian narrator matures and changes over the course of different literary works by Chaucer the author. This development can be seen in a particular facet of the Chaucerian narrator:  his role as a translator.  

            In the case of many of Chaucer’s literary works, the Chaucerian narrator could easily and perhaps more readily be called the Chaucerian translator when he appears. Clearly, Chaucer the author conceived of himself not only as a “maker,” a poet, but as a translator. He calls the vast majority of his works “translaciouns” in the Prologue to the Legend of Good Women (LGW) and in his Retraction.  This self-conception deserves more critical consideration as does the process of development that the Chaucerian translator undergoes between the Legend and the Retraction added to the end of The Canterbury Tales.  

Remarks by the Chaucerian translator throughout Chaucer’s corpus give readers some ideas about how Chaucer the author wanted his audience to perceive how he conceived of the work of translation. To an extent, that conception is traditional and informed by Chaucer’s literary and cultural contexts. First, the translator—especially when acting as a compiler—is dependent upon his authors. However, he is not compelled to acknowledge them, although he may want to do so if he derives authority from them. Second, the Chaucerian translator may act as a fidus interpres (“a faithful translator”) without translating verbum pro verbo (“word for word”)That is to say, for Chaucer’s translator, faithful translation is possible when translating meaning-for-meaning rather than word-for-word.

Third, when Chaucer the author ventriloquizes his pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales, such as the Nun’s Priest and the Physician, deliberate mistranslations may serve the purposes of satire or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, sincerity, for a multilingual audience. Finally, the Chaucerian translator, whatever his rhetoric might otherwise imply, ultimately takes responsibility for his translations, which he believes may have a damning or salvific effect for his soul, if we as the audience take his remarks in the Retraction seriously. This is a significant development in the Chaucerian translator’s persona near the chronological end of Chaucer’s literary career. 

While Chaucer the author’s works often tend toward satire, the principles that the Chaucerian translator either articulates or demonstrates clearly establish the expectations Chaucer desires his audience to have:  namely that his translations will be faithful to truth, they will be culturally relevant, and they will be spiritually efficacious. 


Chiara Benati, Dipartimento di Lingue e Culture Moderne, Università degli Studi di Genova: Preventing Miscommunication: Early Modern German Surgeons as Specialized Translators

Whether compiled from authoritative sources or translated – either from Latin or from another vernacular – surgical texts all aim at clarity and accuracy, since any misunderstanding could have severe consequences for both the patient’s health and the practitioner’s reputation. In early modern German surgical literature, the rendering of specialized terminology is particularly relevant in this respect. The strong dependence on Latin (and Greek) specialized terms has already been described by Pörksen (1994, on the basis of the language used by Paracelsus in his lectures by introducing the metaphor of the ‘half-timbered’ language (German Fachwerksprache): the universally recognized and crystallized medical vocabulary of classical origin represents a warranty against any misunderstanding possibly arising from the use of the still precarious and arbitrary German terminology. A series of case studies from both the High and Low German (manuscript and printed) surgical tradition will be presented in this paper in order to highlight the strategies adopted by their authors to translate foreign language sources and convey a completely clear and unequivocal message.



Amina Boukail, University of Jijel-Algeria: Translation ‒ Culture ‒ Alterity in Medieval Iberia: The Case of Kalila wa Dimna in Hebrew and Castilian

Translations played an interesting role in cultural exchanges in the Iberian Peninsula insofar as they allowed the circulation of images, metaphors, and symbols, especially when Alfonso X founded a Schola Traductorum (School of Translation) in Toledo and employed an important team of scholars and translators who translated scores of crucial works of science, astronomy, philosophy, and wisdom literature from Arabic into Castilian, like Kalila wa-Dimna in 1251. In parallel, Kalila wa Dimna was translated into Hebrew by Rabbi Yoel and there is even another translation by Ya’aqob ben El’azar de Toledo from the end of the 12 century. But those translations of this famous work (the book was of Indian origin and it was translated into Arabic by Ibn al-Muqaffa) were not just conveying meaning from source-language text to equivalent target-language text, but they became re-writings and reconstructions of the original text in a new context. This is what Translation Studies call “domesticating” in translation. In this case, the translation is inseparable from the political or cultural concerns in the target language system, and many of the practices of translation in this period reflected the relationship between Orient and Western.
          This paper tries to follow the target of translation of “Kalila wa Dimana” into Hebrew and Castilian. I will start with a brief, comparative historical-cultural overview of the versions of the story of Kalila wa Dimna in Hebrew and Castilian. Then I will analyze the strategies and procedures used to translate culture-bound references defining Otherness. Through the examination of several passages from the story “The Encircled Pigeon,” I will conclude by examining how the translation of Kalila wa Dimna contributed to the development of European literature in the late Middle Age


Albrecht Classen, University of Arizona, Tucson: Entertainment and Laughter as a Training Ground for Communication: Heinrich Kaufringer, ca. 1400

Late medieval verse and prose narratives have been regularly recognized as didactic, informative, and entertainment in their purpose, whether we think of Boccaccio or Chaucer, Bracciolini or Margarethe de Navarre. We have not quite understood yet to what extent those tales also served to illustrate to the audiences how people ought to communicate with each other, either within marriage or in public, within the city or in closed social groups. Heinrich Kaufringer's verse narratives from ca. 1400 prove to be most explicit in that regard, but they only address ultimately what most other poets of this kind of texts had obviously in mind.


Daniel Droixhe, Université Libre de Bruxelles – Université de Liège : Galen’s Statements on Scirrhus and Their Translations in Early Modern Times (Therapeutics to Glaucon, Method of Medicine).

I shall deal with the correlated statements provided by Galen in the Therapeutics to Glaucon, and in the Method of Medicine, as they were edited and translated into Latin and French in early modern times. First, I shall consider the Latin edition of the Therapeutics provided by Niccoló da Lonigo, called Leoniceno (1428-1524), a professor at Ferrara, under the title Galeni opera (Paris: In officina Henri Stephani, 1514). It will be compared with the Latin edition provided by Martin Akakia (149?-1551), professor at the Royal College of Surgery of the Université de Paris, attached to François I (Paris: apud Simonem Colinoeum, 1538) where there are, for some parts of the text, summaries (intended for students?) prove to be highly useful. The edition of Akakia provided in 1547 by the Bering brothers in Lyon will also be considered. Hence, the focus will be on chapters 4-7 and 12 of the second book, dealing with scirrhus of the liver, the spleen, and the kidneys, on the basis of Galen’s distinction between ‘temper,’ ‘formation‘ (διαπλασεως), and ‘position’ (θεσεως), etc. The relationship between ‘cancer’ and elephantiasis will be set in a general context (see Droixhe to appear), as well as the idea of cancer in early modern times (see Droixhe 2015, 2020).
            A French translation provided by Jean Canape or Canappe, another physician attached to François I, published in Paris by Oudin Petit in 1554, will be scrutinized from the lexical point of view, in comparison with other French treatises on diets (for example, those of Sylvius). The question of the ambivalence of the Lat. cancer, cancrosus, cancerosus and French cancer, chancre will be discussed, in relation to researches published by Demaitre (2013) or Loviconi (2019).
            The references to tumors in the Method of Medicine will be considered in the edition provided by Thomas Lynaker or Linacre (c. 1460-1524), founder of the College of Physicians of London, probably the most ancient of its kind in Europe. The text of his Terrapeutica. Galeni methodus medendi (Venice: In aedibus H. Pentii de Leuco, 1530) will be discussed in reference to Jacques Boulogne’s splendid French translation of 2009.

Demaitre, L. Medieval Medicine. The Art of Healing, from Head to Toe, Santa Barbara-Denver-Oxford : Praeger, 2013.

Droixhe, D., Soigner le cancer au 18e siècle, Paris: Hermann, 2015. 

Droixhe, D., ‘Tracing tradition. The idea of cancerous contagiousness from Renaissance to Enlightenment’, History of European Ideas 46/6, 2020, 754–765.

Droixhe, D. (to appear). ‘Anti-cancerous diets in Paduan consilia of early modern times’. Galien, Méthode de traitement. Traduction intégrale du grec et annotation par Jacques Boulogne, Paris: Gallimard, 2009.

Loviconi, L., ‘Les Practicae: un révélateur de la structuration et de l’élaboration des savoirs théoriques et pratiques médicaux’, in Écritures médicales, ed. L. Moulinier-Brogi and M. Nicoud, Lyon and Avignon, CIHM-Éditions, 2019, 73-99.


Wessam Elmeligi, Assistant Professor, University of Michigan-Dearborn: Reclaiming Their Status through Poetry: A Literary and Digital Textual Analysis of the Medieval Poetry of Arab Women

This study attempts to trace recurrent motifs and themes that reflect how medieval Arab women poets reclaimed their position in society through their writing, thus using poetry as tools of empowerment within a male-dominated society. This paper problematizes the cultural stereotypes of medieval Arab women and poses questions about self-representation in their poetry. The presentation is divided in two parts. The first part categorizes the types of reclaiming status that Arab women poets accomplished in their poems. This is evident in four categories: reclaiming space, reclaiming the body, reclaiming the mind, and reclaiming the narrative. The second part uses digital textual analysis to explore the changing structures of their poems by employing word mapping to underline prevalent words that highlight new motifs. From poetry that is narrowly restricted to genres such as eulogies for male warriors in Pre-Islamic times, to a wider range of genres that encompass love poetry, erotic poetry, and spiritual Sufi poetry, the poetry of Arab women developed in the Umayyad, Abbasid, Andalusian, and even Fatimid and Mamluk eras reflect the changing position of women in their communities. Combining both a stylistic and thematic analysis, the article examines the role of poetry by Arab women as means of communication in their communities.

Amany El-Sawy, Alexandria University, Egypt: Community and the Others: Crossing Boundaries in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice

Early modern Venice was governed by rough proto-Enlightenment ideals and traditionally sanctioned principles about acceptance and community. That is, anybody who did not belong to the mainstream white Christian patriarchal society was regarded as the "other" and was not accepted. The conflict and opposition of the different ideologies made Venice’s social and religious boundaries much more ambiguous and difficult to assess than Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice would lead us to believe. Despite the fame of  The Merchant of Venice and its widely recognized depictions of Shylock, the ‘merciless’ Jew, we often fail to appreciate the deeper themes and observations that Shakespeare develops about religion, gender, and how socio-economic factors mixed and divided social groups. In the world of the superior patriarchal Christian Venetian community, "others" like Shylock, Jessica and Portia have to cross boundaries in order to be seen and to be accepted. Religion and gender are the boundaries hindering Shylock, his daughter, and Portia from belonging to and from communicating properly with their community. Thus, this paper intends to investigate the different boundaries crossed that Shakespeare develops in The Merchant of Venice in order to understand how socio-religious groups defined themselves in the Venetian community.


Fidel Fajardo-Acosta, Creighton University, Nebraska: Proscribed Communication: The Obscene Language of the Troubadour William IX of Aquitaine

The songs of William IX (1071-1126), Duke of Aquitaine and VII Count of Poitiers, are famous as the earliest known Romance vernacular lyrics. They are also infamous for their author's penchant for the use of decidedly obscene language and rather explicit terms in his references to the human body and sexuality. Ever since the earliest commentaries on troubadour literature, and even in his own time, his works have been subjected to greater or lesser degrees of criticism, censorship and/or suppression. Even canonical editions, such as those of Alfred Jeanroy, in the early twentieth century, drew the line at certain expressions, and even whole poems, presenting them in the original Occitan language but refusing to translate them into modern French. The same has been true of many other modern scholars who have felt repelled by William's language and also embarrassed to speak in as free a manner as the first troubadour did. As recently as 2011, while I presented a paper on William at the International Medieval Studies Congress in Kalamazoo, a member of the audience became irate at my translating into modern English the word con, which William uses in expressions like "leis de con" and "cons gardatz," and which is also employed by the highly moralistic troubadour, Marcabru. As it turned out, the anger was not confined to an isolated individual and was shared by a number of colleagues who considered it scandalous and unacceptable to use such words, even in a scholarly discussion dealing with the historical use of the words in medieval literary texts. The situation is not unlike that of the recently reported firing of New York Times reporter, Donald McNeil Jr., who used the N-word during a discussion of the use of such language. Although the intention was not racist but clearly aimed at having an open and honest discussion of racist language, the Executive Editor of the New York Times, Dean Baquet, and the Managing Editor, Joe Kahn, announced that McNeil was leaving the paper and unequivocally stated that, "We do not tolerate racist language regardless of intent" (5 February, 2021). In that context of suppression of language (and implicitly of ideas), in medieval and contemporary contexts, this paper aims to explore its possible reasons and implications. It may turn out that, since the works of William were created at a key moment in the formation of modern western subjectivities, the reactions of various audiences to those works might be able to tell us something significant about ourselves, likely something we do not want to face.


Heba Gaber Abdelaziz, Alexandria University, Egypt: A New Historicist Reading of the Representation of the Muslim in Othello

This paper presents a New Historicist reading of the depiction of the Muslim character in William Shakespeare’s Othello (1603). In Othello, the cultural identity of the Muslim is stereotyped through a recurrent negative attitude toward black Muslims through the racial references and the Oriental link to magic and mythology. The representation of the Moor in Othello reflects the biased view toward the outsider who was once a Muslim warrior in the Ottoman Empire and became part of the Venetian forces. A New Historicist reading of the play would propose that although Venice is a perfect choice for the setting of the play, since it was the meeting point between the Orient and the West, the play insinuates a great deal about the Anglo-Islamic mis/communications through Shakespeare’s controversial depiction of Othello. In other words, the historicity of the text is clear from the fact that even though the play takes place in Venice, it reflects the Elizabethan attitudes toward Muslims at a time that affected Shakespeare himself. The portrayal of Othello does not only show a great deal about the English xenophobia to the ethnic other but also the unwillingness of Othello to forgive the Venetian Christian society that rejected him, which insinuates a binary miscommunication that took place in the assumed “tolerant” Venetian society that attracted Muslims, at the same time they were expelled from the rest of Europe. Moreover, the universality of the character of Othello, represented in his jealousy and emotional attitude, is juxtaposed to his stereotyped portrayal as an alien being, which is considered textuality of history of the dominant discourse. That is to say, the lack of communication is most embodied in the failure of society to conceive of him as a highly honored soldier and to consider him a stranger due to his African origins. The study also touches on the Arabic and Muslim varied receptions of Othello that ranged from complete refusal to acceptance as petites recits that counterpart the Bard’s universality as a grand narrative. 

In a nutshell, the study aims at highlighting the signs of Venetian-Islamic miscommunication in the early modern Venetian history in two parts. The first part New Historically investigates the nature of the tension and miscommunication between the Venetian society and Muslim characters, where Venice was considered a cosmopolitan city. This will take place through applying the tools of New Historicist writers like Stephen Greenblatt, Clifford Geertz, Michel Foucault and Louis Montrose (thick description, textuality of history, historicity of the text, petites recits, grand narratives, discourse, power, and episteme) to the stories, anecdotes, and oral traditions about the Muslims in Venice. The second part links the historical background to Shakespeare’s representation of the Muslim character in Othello as the other where the paradoxical representation of Othello in the play reflects ’s the English historical and cultural involvement with the Orient to subvert the dominant discourse of the tolerant European society towards the other.   

Filip Hrbek, University of J. E. Purkyně, Ústí nad Labem, Czech Republic: The Physicians’ Community in Pre-Thirty Years’ War Bohemia

The medical profession or community has always been a subject of criticism by other social or professional groups. There were several reasons for this. At first, physicians are those who interfere in the lives of other people by working for the health of all the people. Second, advancing deeper into the human body was in medieval and early modern society a de facto breaching of a certain taboo, which became another factor contributing to the exclusive status of members of the medical profession. A physicians’ community formed in this way was under certain circumstances viewed rather critically by other social or professional groups. This negative opinion aimed at making a community of physicians responsible (justly or unjustly) for an unwanted state of public health or social pathology. Such opinions emerged particularly since the middle of the fourteenth century in the wake of many waves of plague epidemics, against which the medical profession did not know any effective remedies. Such tensions between physicians and Church authors in times of plague epidemics are interesting for us mainly because of two reasons. At first, it shows us the different approaches by clergymen and physicians how to deal with plague epidemics, where the clergymen point to the importance of social functioning of the community whereas physicians are in favor of pure epidemiological measures disregarding their social impact. This is most evident in the question if a healthy person has the right to flee before the plague or not. Second, as this intellectual conflict between these two groups of authors erupts, the Church authors start to question the existence of the physicians’ profession standing outside of the authority of the clergymen. The objective of this paper will be to analyze Czech-language plague (anti-plague) texts mainly by Church authors to show how the community of early modern physicians was judged by the Church authors and who communicated their point of view to the majority of the population of early modern Bohemia. Thus, this paper should also answer the question regarding the social status of physicians in early modern society.

Nere Jone Intxaustegi Jauregi, University of Deusto, Spain: Communication and Translation in Early Modern Basque Society. The Role Played by the Notaries Public

The public notaries were worldwide very important; not only in the apparatus of the state but also in the daily organization of people’s lives. They were, among other things, in charge of writing testaments, codicils, labor contracts, dowries, or loans. Therefore, communication was a key element of their job, since they had to write down names, dates, and personal information that the clients gave them. However, a communication problem could arise when the clients did not speak the administrative language. In our case, the Basque territories belonged to the Castilian Crown, but Basque and Castilian are completely different languages. Besides, the number of Basque monolingual speakers was around 90% of the society. For that reason, the notaries public in the Basque territories had more responsibilities, since they also had to perform the task of the translator. 

So, this paper will address the translator’s tasks carried out by the notaries public and it will analyze the training of the notaries public, and the demand of those linguistic skills among men and women, and also in urban and rural spaces. In order to achieve that, archival records will be used.


Chiara Melchionno, Scuola Superiore Meridionale - University of Naples “Federico II”, Italy: Paremiac Expressions: A Touch of Color in the Ambassadors’ Diplomatic Correspondence in the Fifteenth Century

Is it possible – and, if so, how – to explain the presence of paremiac expressions – (proverbs strictu sensu, sayings and locutions) – in the correspondence of Italian ambassadors? A distinction recently introduced in the discourse on proverbs, sayings and locutions defines a paremia as a sequence of syntagms constituting a single verbal act; a short, conventional, polysemic, and exhaustive expression, based on a logical-rhythmical and binary opposition, which is typical of the oral tradition and is aimed at explicating a piece of advice. Pertaining to the oral dimension, it would seem almost paradoxical that these expressions can be found in such formal texts as the ambassadors’ letters.
            Actually, paremiac expressions mirror the communicative praxis of the Middle Ages, when orality and writing went hand in hand: the former was the predominant method of communication, but they both derived from the same rhetorical models, being therefore complementary and not opposites.                   This paper intends to investigate the presence of paremias within a number of diplomatic letters exchanged between the State of Milan and the Kingdom of Naples in the fifteenth century in order to understand what was their linguistic and communicative function and how greatly they influenced (and changed) the nature of Italian diplomatic letters itself.
            A series of case studies, deriving from the letters kept in the State Archive of Milan and exchanged between Galeazzo Maria Sforza (lord of Milan) and Francesco Maletta (his ambassador to Alfonso of Aragon in Naples) will be presented in order to better highlight the uniqueness of this correspondence, which lies in its composite linguistic features (a mix of Latin and Italian vernacular) and in the political and historical relevance of its content.

Doaa Omran, University of New Mexico: (Non)-Imaginary Ideal Communities in the Pre-Modern World: A Reading of the Utopian Works of al-Farābi’, Ibn Khaldūn, Christine de Pizan, and Thomas Moore


The Middle Ages were full of communal tensions. In an attempt to finding harmonizing alternatives, medieval writers and philosophers imagined and philosophized about the characteristics of how an ideal community should be like. Among such utopian attempts are: al-Farabi’s (872-950) Principles of the Opinions of the Citizens of the Virtuous City, Ibn Khaldūn’s Muqaddimah (1377), Christine de Pizan’s The Book of the City of Ladies (1405), and Thomas Moore’s Utopia (1516). This paper explores the depiction of the ideal city across Eastern and Western works: whereas European writers placed their utopias in imaginary locales, Islamicate scholars placed their utopias within actual communities.

In his Principles of the Opinions of the Citizens of the Virtuous City, the Abbasid al-Farabi (872-950) imagines a utopia. Al-Farabi’s Virtuous City is based on Platonic and Islamic principles.  The book’s first section discusses al-Farabi’s understanding of the nature of God according to Islamic thought and how people can live in His virtuous city following the rules of God. The second part of the book is quite like Plato’s societal strata division in his Republic. al-Farabi emphasizes the social and symbiotic nature of a harmonious human community. In his Muqaddimah, the more down-to-earth sociologist and diplomat, Ibn Khaldūn, introduced the concept of ‘aabiyah (social cohesion), and considered it one of the moving forces of any community and one of the factors that cement any community together. Ibn Khaldūn also promoted that established societies invest in education and immersed in culture. According to him, it is fikr (the faculty to think) that defines human behavior and distinguishes one society from another. Whereas al-Farābi theorized on the communal level, Ibn Khaldūn explored the larger societal level.

            Comparable to Ibn Khaldūn, Christine de Pizan emphasizes the value of education in her The Book of the City of Ladies which is populated by well-read women such as Sappho and Pompeia Paulina. Christine de Pizan portrays a community/city populated only by women who are both powerful and empowering to their female peers. This utopian community is also constituted of anima-like characters such as Lady Virtue, Lady Justice and Lady Rectitude. These Virtues advise Christine de Pizan on how she can build her city suggesting statutes of historical characters from across the globe (such as: Mary Magdaline, Semiramis, and the Queen of Sheba) to adorn the external walls of her city/community. Christine de Pizan, thus, re-imagines a matriarchal space in which feminine personas (whether “virtual” or historical) can interact with the writer – and possibly with other contemporary women. This transnational and trans-historical feminine domain functions as a learning community in which women can exchange knowledge and experience. Men have no access to such a feminine sphere. Whereas al-Farabi emphasizes the symbiotic relationship of society members in his Virtuous City, Christine de Pizan expels men from her feminine utopia. Like Christine de Pizan’s fantastical utopia, Moore’s Utopia is another fictional work about an ideal paradise. Corresponding to Christine de Pizan’s locale, Moore’s Utopia exists outside the distinctive geographic realms of the community he dwells in. It is an imaginary crescent-shaped island with an imaginary capital. The rules that govern Moore’s utopia are not applicable to those of a real society.

            Through comparing these four utopian works, I illustrate how medieval Arabic utopias take place in real locales and their function was primarily corrective social treatises. On the other hand, European utopias are more imaginary and provide more fictional alternatives.


Daniel F. Pigg, The University of Tennessee at Martin: Words, Signs, Meanings: William Langland’s Piers Plowman as a Window on Linguistic Chaos

Few texts of fourteenth-century England have been understood as more complex than William Langland’s Piers Plowman. A poem that underwent expansions and revisions during the period between 1360 and the 1390s at least three times, Piers Plowman is a response to the very heart of social and religious challenges that specifically relate to the problems of the linguistic. Rooted in a conservative realist notion of signs and their meanings, William Langland explores a world that he believes is on the brink of its own destruction as a result of the corruption of systems that produce meaning. In the first portion of the poem, entitled by scribes as the Visio, Langland depicts a world where clergy are barely able to read the service in Latin, where the meaning of words has been upended in the confessional, and where documents themselves have contributed to the shattering of meaning.
            In order to understand exactly how this problem has happened, Langland gives us three worlds: the world of the court, the world of the confessional, and the world of pardons. Through an analysis of each domain, Langland presents a vision whereby the very means of communication is not only hampered, but most often undermined. Such events lead the Dreamer Will on his pilgrimage for meaning—a pilgrimage that lasts the lifetime of the character named Will.
            What do words mean? That is a question that plagues the poet and is at the heart of his rewriting and expanding of his poem. Do words have stable meaning? Is Latin more stable than the vernacular? Does truth lie within the linguistic utterance itself? How do people attempt to use language to both enclose and disclose meaning? How do we know what we know? If it seems like these are questions without easy answers, readers will find Langland’s Piers Plowman struggling with the very meaning of language itself.
            In this essay, recourse to ideas about language from Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, various realist and nominalist philosophers help to frame Langland’s question. Some have called him a proto-Reformation figure, but that is far too easy with respect to his skepticism about social conventions, religious rituals, and language systems. From the modern perspective, Langland will strike readers as having a kind of sociological mind that attempts to get into the deep structures of social and linguistic systems that provide for meaning. His success in many ways highlights the flaws within the systems—systems corrupted by human desire. Meaning is still possible, but it rests in the flawed and multivalent figure of Piers the Plowman, who remains a hope.



William Sayers, Adjunct Full Professor, Medieval Studies, Cornell University: The Mythological Norse Ravens Huginn and Muninn: Interrogators of the Newly Slain

In preference to the common assumption that Óðinn’s ravens daily gather general information from around the world and report back to their master, this study identifies their principal informants as the newly dead (recently slain warriors and hanged men), and the information gathered not simply wisdom but tactical intelligence needed for the eventual cataclysmic battle of Ragnarǫk, in which Óðinn’s select but slain warriors, the Einherjar of Valhǫll (often named in the same context as the ravens), will also participate.  The study addresses the central questions of chthonic wisdom, of how the dead (are presumed to) know what is hidden from the living, and why Snorri, in contrast to the skalds, paints an innocuous picture of the ravens.

Connie L. Scarborough, Professor Emerita, Texas Tech University, A Nuanced View of the Dishonest Jew

Included in Gonzalo de Berceo’s thirteenth-century collection of Marian miracle tales, Milagros de Nuestra Señora, is story #23, entitled “El mercador fiado,” “The Trusting Merchant.” This miracle narrative was popular and is included in Alfonso X’s Cantigas de Santa Maria, and the Marian legends of Gautier de Coinci, John of Garland, Bartholomew of Trent, Gracial d’Adgar, and others. The tale involves a Jewish moneylender and a generous Christian merchant who falls on hard times due to his extreme acts of generosity to all with whom he comes into contact. However, the tale is not what one would expect ‒ it is not a tale of a stereotypically greedy Jew who takes advantage of a good Christian. Rather, the Christian is presented as reckless with his wealth. The Jewish moneylender is initially a sympathetic character who lends money to his Christian neighbor when all his family and friends refuse him due to his failure to repay loans they had made to him in the past. The only guarantor for the loan that the Christian can offer the Jew is Christ and the Virgin Mary for whom the Jew shows deep respect, even though he does not accept Jesus as the Son of God. When, due to extenuating circumstances, the Christian relies on divine intervention to repay the Jew, the moneylender tries to conceal the repayment, lying to all who will listen, telling them that the irresponsible Christian had defaulted on the loan. His lie is, of course, miraculously revealed. What interests me about this tale is the nuanced characterization of the Jew and the Christian. Yes, the Jew lies, but he is supportive of a Christian who behaves irresponsibly. Neither the Christian nor the Jew is without blame and the latter’s lie can only be revealed when Christ and His Mother speak on the Christian’s behalf.



Emily L. Sharrett, Loyola University Chicago: Book Piracy in Early Modern Publishing Practices

In the early modern period, and still to this day, the piracy of printed texts has influenced the book trade that links reading communities across regional and national boundaries. Literary historians, such as John Feather and Adrian Johns, have detailed how, since the fifteenth century, concerns regarding intellectual property plagued communication modes and spurred legal and juridical actions. While the history of piracy has been documented, scholarship exploring the consequences of piracy entering our cultural imagination remains sparse. This essay addresses the social implications of early modern literary narratives that represent the piracy of printed texts by first defining piracy before analyzing specific references to literary piracy. My paper concludes that “book-pirates” were censured in and beyond the courtroom. Thus, my work informs the conference topic by demonstrating how miscommunication via deceitful printing practices was policed at both the state and personal levels among and across reading communities.

David Tomíček, Usti na Labem, Czech Republic: Communication about the Health Risks in the Czech Written Medical Sources of the 15th and 16th Centuries.

Medieval medicine, grounded on the authoritative Greek humoral theory later deepened by Arabic scholars and “modern” commentators, was firmly determined for centuries by Latin terminology and the classical scientific ways of thinking. Through the theories about the generation and corruption of the human body, it was part of the abstract philosophical concept of nature. During the late medieval period, medicine left the limited field of clerical thinking and became a part of the public space of vernacular discourse and opened itself up to the understanding of laypeople lacking both terminological and conceptual framework in that field. New possibilities of printed books emphasized the challenge of how to communicate the medical topics to the broader audience. In my paper I will examine the medical sources composed in the Czech language, both manuscripts and prints, to answer the question about the new argumentative strategies and even manipulative techniques used to underline the importance of physicians and medical science to enjoy a long and healthy life.  


Christa A. Tuczay & Thomas Ballhausen (Vienna/Salzburg): Demonic Operators. Forbidden Relations in Medieval Communication

In our paper we will address invocations and similar aspects of ritual/ceremonial magic as a vital part of the history and practice of medieval communication. Taking new theories into account (J. Bennett, E. Thacker, M. Serres) we aim to describe an ecology of this forbidden communication as a net of interconnected relations: Human actors, non human things and supernatural beings can be better understood by redrawing the interplay/interaction of their respective denotations and shifting qualities. Based upon a variety of textual examples we will show how calling upon spirits, the dead, or even the Devil within the framework of (necromantic) conjurations and invocations need to be understood not only as a continuous existing historical phenomenon but also as a dark twin to sanctioned (or even: sanctified) ways of communication (prayer, holy mass, etc.).

Andreas Lehnertz (Jerusalem), Birgit Wiedl (St. Pölten): “as written in my own Jewish hand”: German-Hebrew Documents from the Medieval Holy Roman Empire
Among the many archival records that resulted from Jewish-Christian interaction in the medieval Holy Roman Empire, quite a number are bilingual, mainly in German and Hebrew. Particularly texts in conjunction with legal issues had to be legally binding for both sides. Therefore, charters issued by Jews in German for their Christian business partner followed the common (Christian) formulae, while the –– sometimes added –– Hebrew renditions or notes show a mixture of the common formulae and phrases stemming from the Jewish legal sphere. As bilingual documents, these records are witness to the familiarity of the Jews with both German and Hebrew, but also attest to the acceptance –– if not the understanding –– of Hebrew by the Christians who often demanded corroboration in records of Jewish issuers by their Hebrew signature.
            Another form of bi- or even multilinguality can be seen in the dorsal notes many Jewish businessmen and businesswomen wrote on records they received from their Christian business partners. With such notes a documentation of the record’s content was achieved in a summarized and highly abbreviated form, usually giving the name of the Christian business partner(s), the object or sum, and the date or payback date, in Hebrew translation and/or transliteration.
            Our paper aims at describing these multilingual phenomena witnessed through records between Jewish and Christian business partners. We shall explore the bilateral understandings of each other’s documentary practices as it is also expressed in the usage of the two languages, which served in reaching legal agreements both Christians and Jews were satisfied with.


Asmaa Ahmed Youssef, Medieval Literature, Lecturer of English Literature, Alexandria University, Egypt: The Function of Storytelling in the Medieval Arabic Poetry of Abu Tammam

During the Abasid period (750‒1258), poets have explored the subject of Islamic conquests of colonized countries by Byzantium rulers. They wrote epic poems in which they praised Caliphates and their heroic deeds. The speech style of these epic poems encourages Arab people to defend and restore their original lands. Abu Tamamm’s “Ode on the Conquest of Amorium” (838) is a lengthy narrative poem, qasida, which celebrates the Islamic victory over the Byzantium city of Amorium. The poem relates the story of a Muslim woman who was captured by Byzantines. When Al-Mu’tasim heard her call, he immediately prepared his army and went to save her and restore the Arabic land. Abu Tammam praises the Caliph, Al-Mu’tasim, pointing out the religious and social implications of the victory. The poet also uses satire to attack astrologers who have falsely predicted Muslims’ unsuccessful trail to conquer the city of Zibatrah (in Constantinople) at a specific time of the year. Oral tradition is used alongside written poetry to communicate and facilitate the spread of culture. Poets use this form of human communication wherein cultural values and beliefs are received, preserved, and transmitted orally from one generation to another. According to Michael Zwettler’s The Oral Tradition of Classical Arabic Poetry (1978), the use of thematic analysis and oral-formulaic and al-Badi’ techniques are main characteristics in writing oral poetry.  Abu Tammam has divided his poem into five sections, each of equal status and importance, which facilitate memorization. In this paper, I illustrate how people repeat and employ “Ode on the Conquest of Amorium” in their gatherings and petitions. By reciting the stories of Al-Mu’tasm, the Byzantine ruler, the captured woman, and the astrologers, cultural standards and ethics are preserved for next generations.