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Water in Medieval Literature
An Ecocritical Reading. Ecocritical Theory and Practice
Ecocritical thinking has sensitized us more than ever before to the tremendous importance of water for human life, as it is richly reflected in the world of literature. The great relevance of water also in the Middle Ages might come as a surprise for many readers, but the evidence assembled here confirms that also medieval poets were keenly aware of the importance of water to sustain all life, to provide understanding of life's secrets, to mirror love, and to connect the individual with God. In eleven chapters major medieval European authors and their works are discussed here, taking us from the world of Old Norse to Irish and Latin literature, to German, French, English, and Italian romances and other narratives.
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This study argues that water, an underexamined motif in medieval literature, merits closer attention, especially given recent developments in ecocriticism. Seeking to remedy this neglect and show how central water was to early literature, Classen (German studies, Univ. of Arizona) offers a set of ten studies of the symbolic and spiritual uses of water in European works from the 12th through the 16th centuries, including the Goliardic Herzog Ernst; The Voyage of St. Brendan; the Lais of Marie de France; Hartmann von Aue's Gregorius; Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival; Mechthild of Magdeburg's The Flowing Light of the Godhead; Boccaccio's Decameron; the Icelandic Njal's Sage; Jean d'Arras's version of the Melusine myth; and Margaret of Navarre's Heptameron. The book's introduction touches on a range of other medieval texts, including Beowulf, the Romance of the Rose, and stories from the Gesta Romanorum.... Classen's book is compendious, comparativist, and learned.... [I]t is a good place to start thinking about the significance of water in early texts. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. * CHOICE * Classen's Water in Medieval Literature makes a unique, and uniquely valuable, contribution to the developing field of medieval eco-criticism.... The theme of the book is well explored in academic prose that is remarkably lucid and jargon-free. Thus the chapters will be comprehensible to an undergraduate student and yet still very beneficial to an advanced scholar. The latter will find in the book a comprehensive bibliography and numerous, highly-detailed footnotes connecting Classen's literary analysis to relevant medieval and eco-critical scholarship.... As eco-critical scholarship is now coming to prominence across the disciplines and in scholarship concerning all historical periods of literature, I recommend this valuable book not only to medievalists, whom it will certainly interest, but also to all eco-critical literary scholars. A broad audience will certainly benefit from a deeper understanding of water in the pre-modern period. This book makes a ground-breaking contribution to literary and eco-critical scholarship, and it deserves wide attention. * Mediaevistik *