[Cross-listed with Medieval Studies 301]

Journeys to the East: Tales of Travel and Conquest in Medieval French Literature

The European Middle Ages did not occur in a bubble: medieval Europe was part of an interconnected social, political, economic and cultural continuum that spanned much of Eurasia and Africa, and included a myriad religions, languages and societies. This course aims to explore this global medieval world through the lens of French literature: how it represented non-feudal and non-majority-Christian cultures, what sort of contacts it focused on (peaceful or agressive), and the ways in which it indirectly depicted itself through describing (or fantasizing) the “Other”.

The course will therefore focus on medieval representations of the world and of societies and cultures beyond Western Europe, as well as early instances of Orientalism and Othering, through fictional and factual accounts. Texts will include The Song of Roland and its confrontational depiction of the Muslim world; Villehardouin’s chronicle of the Fourth Crusade (in Constantinople) and Joinville’s chronicle of the Seventh (in Egypt); and two key travel narratives: Marco Polo’s real-life record of his journey to the court of Kublai Khan and back, and John Mandeville’s more dubious Book of Wonders. Study of these Western texts will be interspersed with excerpts from Byzantine and Arab texts that depict the obverse perspective, showcasing how the medieval continuum goes both ways.

This course is taught in English and cannot count towards a Major or Minor in French. It is cross-listed as MDVL 301 within the Medieval Studies program.

Required readings:

  • The Song of Roland and Other Poems of Charlemagne, Oxford World’s Classics, 2016, ISBN 978-0199655540
  • Joinville and Villehardouin, Chronicles of the Crusades, Penguin Classics, 2009, ISBN 978-0140449983
  • Marco Polo, The Travels, Penguin Classics, 2016, ISBN 978-0241253052
  • The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, Penguin Classics, 2005, ISBN 978-0141441436

Other texts will be made available on Canvas.

Prerequisite: Second year standing or higher. At least 6 credits of English, or equivalent, is strongly recommended.

Language of instruction: English

Note: Not available for credit towards a Minor, Major or Honours program in French.

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