Medieval Quest as a Model for Us Today

SYLLABUS Fall 2013

The Medieval Quest as a Model for Us Today
Instructor: Prof. Albrecht Classen
Department of German Studies
318 Learning Services Building
The University of Arizona
Tucson, AZ 85721
tel.: 520 621-1395
fax.: 520 626-8268

SCHEDULE: MONDAYS 9:00 a.m. until 12:00 p.m.
September 30 until December 16, 2013 (note: not every Monday!)

COURSE CONCEPT: One of the most intriguing aspects about the European Middle Ages might well be the overarching desire dominating the entire long period to establish an understanding of the own self in relationship with God, the world, and people. I call it simply “THE QUEST.” Of course, the Middle Ages were not a uniform and unchanging epoch between antiquity and the early modern world. The early Middle Ages with its strong emphasis on heroism were supplanted by the high Middle Ages in which the courtly values, feudalism, and love were the most critical features. And the late Middle Ages witnessed the emergence of a more urban, bourgeois society in which individualism, marriage, social and ethical issues, and a growing awareness about the natural environment gained in dominance. Nevertheless, the QUEST was shared throughout the entire time period, perhaps more than ever since.  This course will explore, philosophically speaking to what extent we could say that all human life is determined by the desire for knowledge, meaning, and relevance. Hence the concept of the QUEST. Looking at the Middle Ages, we are suddenly gazing through a historical telescope, backward but also forward, and might find ourselves. The idea of this course is to gain insight into our own QUEST by way of studying how people in the past pursued that goal and what that might mean for us today.

READING MATERIAL: We will use a new text anthology that I have put together only recently, and which students in a variety of classes have already enjoyed greatly. The feedback has been very positive, and the 2nd rev. edition that we will use offers even more texts and improvements. They represent fields such as philosophy, literature, religion, and politics. You can buy the book at the UA bookstore on campus, but it would be much easier and affordable to buy it directly from the publisher who will ship it to you:

The required book for my Humanities Seminars Program course, The Medieval Questas a Model for Us Today (Second Revised Edition, July 2013), is published and distributed by Cognella, Inc. The book is now available for purchase through their student e-commerce store (
I have carefully chosen/crafted this book to provide you with the best learning experience.


The book includes readings that we will use in class daily, so you should purchase your own copy. Also, please keep in mind that our institution adheres to copyright law, so any copyrighted material should not be copied or duplicated in any manner.

I strongly encourage you to buy this textbook directly from the publisher. This will ensure you receive the following benefits:
·    Best price available. The publisher offers a 20% discount off of the book’s list price and there are no third-party price markups applied.
·    Most updated edition. Only the current, most recent edition is available, unlike other vendors who may carry older editions.
·    Immediate access to your own partial e-book (FREE 30% PDF) from within your student account.
To purchase the textbook, please follow the instructions below:
Step 1: Log on to
Step 2: Create an account or log in if you have an existing account to purchase.
Step 3: Easy-to-follow instructions guide you through the rest of the ordering process. Payment can be made by all major credit cards or with an electronic check.
Step 4: After purchasing, you can access your FREE 30% PDF by logging into your account and clicking My Digital Materials to get started on your readings right away.
If you experience any difficulties, please email or call 800.200.3908 ext. 503.
Both myself ( and Kerstin Miller ( will be more than happy to help if any problem occurs.

Please read the Introduction and scan the dateline as a preparation for this course. We can discuss details in class as you see fit.

Sept. 30: Boethius, De consolatione philosophiae (questions the nature of fortune/misfortune, the properties of true happiness, and the path toward that goal which everyone must take)

October 7: anonymous, The Nibelungenlied (an epic poem exploring the nature of hatred and violence, examining the catastrophic consequences of revenge)

Oct. 14: Gautier de Coinci, Our Lady’s Tumbler (in a very religious context, the quest for the self finds a powerful answer, revealing the very nature of human spirituality and the need to go on a quest individually); Marie de France, “Bisclavret” (the noble spirit in us)

Oct. 21: Marie de France, “The Two Lovers,” “Eliduc,” Dante’s Inferno (who are we both in this and in the afterlife? How do we pursue our true goals and what do they consist of?)

Oct. 28: Caesarius of Heisterbach (what are miracles, how do they fit into human life, and do they even exist?)

Nov.  4: Saint Francis of Assisi (through humility and fervent belief finding the path toward God)

Nov. 18: Hartmann von Aue, The Unfortunate Lord Heinrich (sickness, death, and self-discovery, leading to true health, and spiritual enlightenment)

Dec.   2: Christine de Pizan (feminism already in the Middle Ages? The quest for the self through the gender debate)

Dec.   9: Marsiglio of Padua (religious differences, debate across religious boundaries, toleration)

Dec. 16: Johannes Tepl, The Plowman and Death (the ultimate meaning of life, marital love, the dignity of the human body, honor)

On a side note: On Dec. 17, 2013, I am planning to take a group of people on a tour through Switzerland and Germany to experience Christmas markets and to visit historical sites relevant for the Middle Ages. We will fly into Zurich and return from Berlin. Please let me know whether you might be interested in a most unusual winter break. Return on Dec. 26, 2013. It will be cold on the outside, but glowing and warm on the inside, metaphorically speaking. This trip has nothing to do with the Humanities Seminars, but I warmly invite you to consider it as an option for your own pleasure.