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Medieval Sensibilities: A History of Emotions in the Middle Ages

Medieval Sensibilities: A History of Emotions in the Middle Ages

Damien Boquet, Piroska Nagy

ISBN: 978-1-509-51469-4

Jul 2018, Polity

350 pages


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What do we know of the emotional life of the Middle Ages? Though a long-neglected subject, a myriad of sources - spiritual and secular literature, iconography, chronicles, as well as theological and medical works - provides clues to the central role emotions played in medieval society.

In this work, historians Damien Boquet and Piroska Nagy delve into a rich variety of texts and images to reveal the many and nuanced experiences of emotion during the Middle Ages. From the demonstrative shame of a saint to a nobleman's fear of embarrassment, from friendship among monks to suffering in imitation of Christ, from the enthusiasm of a crusading band to the fear of a town threatened by the approach of war or plague, the examples are countless. Boquet and Nagy show how these outbursts of joy and pain, while universal expressions, must be understood within the specific context of medieval society. During the Middle Ages, a Christian model of affectivity was formed in the 'laboratory' of the monasteries, one which gradually seeped into wider society, interacting with the sensibilities of courtly culture and other forms of expression. 

Bouqet and Nagy bring a thousand years of history to life, demonstrating how the study of emotions in medieval society can also enable us to understand better our own social outlooks and customs. Medieval Sensibilities will be of great interest to students and scholars of the Middle Ages, as well as to general readers interested in new perspectives on the past.

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  • Acknowledgements
  • Foreword
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: The Christianization of Emotion (third to fifth centuries)
  • The theology of emotion
  • An emotional God
  • God’s wrath: a proof of his existence
  • God is love
  • Passion incarnate
  • The anthropology of emotion
  • The Christian passions
  • Augustine: father of medieval affectivity
  • Sin and punishment
  • A new order of humanity
  • Chapter 2: The City of Desire: The Monastic Laboratory
  • The desert: from the care of the body to the care of the soul
  • The bad thoughts of Evagrius of Pontus
  • Cassian and the foundations of community: from charity to virtuous friendship
  • Affective conversion in Western monasticism
  • Monastic norms for converting the emotions
  • Gregory the Great and sacrificial emotion
  • Chapter 3: Emotions for a Christian Society: The Frankish World (fifth to tenth centuries)
  • The early Middle Ages: a fragmented age?
  • Emotional bonds
  • Amicitia / inimicitia
  • And what of women in all of this?
  • The rise of heavenly emotions
  • New forms of lay devotion
  • Moral teaching
  • The Carolingian vision of society: unity in love
  • Chapter 4: The Zenith of Monastic Affection
  • The origins of affective renewal
  • A compassionate eremitism
  • The privilege of love: fraternal affection amongst an ascetic elite
  • The affective reform of monasticism and the Church.
  • Friendship as the practice of conversion: Anselm of Canterbury
  • The expansion of love’s domain
  • Passionate charity as spiritual nature
  • Ordering the emotions
  • Sensitive pieties
  • The world as horizon: spiritual friendship and fraternal charity in the twelfth century
  • Chapter 5: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Aristocratic Emotions in Feudal Society (eleventh to thirteenth centuries)
  • The emotional order of feudal society
  • A society of spectacle
  • Revolutions of love
  • The loving couple and its twin
  • The naturalization of love
  • The impossible innamoramento of same-sex lovers
  • Literary emotions and aristocratic values
  • Epic emotions
  • Looking upon another, another looking upon oneself: jealousy and shame
  • Chapter 6: The Emotive Nature of Man (eleventh to thirteenth centuries)
  • A prelude: the controversy over the ‘first movements of the soul’
  • Accidents of the soul and of the heart: the medical science of emotion
  • The emotional mechanism
  • Emotions and healthy living
  • Remedies for melancholy
  • Monastic anthropology in the twelfth century: the challenges of a spiritual psychology
  • Affect as a power of the soul
  • For better or for worse: the affective union of body and soul
  • Towards a university science of the passions of the soul: the thirteenth century
  • Emotions and individuals between psychology and morality: the early thirteenth century
  • John of La Rochelle: the turning point of scholastic anthropology
  • Thomas Aquinas: a psychological science of the passions
  • Chapter 7: The Politics of Princely Emotion (twelfth to fifteenth centuries)
  • Sovereign emotion
  • From the political body to the princely body, and back again.
  • The prince in the mirror of his emotions
  • The emotional portrait of St. Louis
  • Governing through emotion
  • Ira regis
  • Anger as verdict: the murder of Thomas Beckett.
  • Casting shame and being ashamed
  • Negotiating emotions
  • Sovereignty and the transformation of political emotion: the example of friendship
  • Emotion as a political event
  • ‘To cry is to govern’
  • Chapter 8: The Mystical Conquest of Emotion (thirteenth to fifteenth centuries)
  • The cultural roots of ‘affective mysticism’
  • The Gregorian renewal of theology and the anthropology of religious practices
  • Religious fervour: a collective emotion
  • Francis of Assisi and the revolution of embodied emotion
  • The experience of pious women
  • Vision, imagination and embodiment: paths towards union with the suffering of Christ
  • The sacramental ‘emotive’: the emotional navigation of mystics
  • The emotional incarnation of the sacred: gender and society
  • Epilogue: the devotio moderna and the softening of affective piety
  • Chapter 9: Common Emotion (thirteenth to fifteenth centuries)
  • The public sharing of performative emotions
  • Emotion and violence: popular movements
  • Settling conflicts through the sharing of emotion
  • Emotions and social identities
  • When emotions expressed communities
  • Excluding through emotion: fomenting hatred
  • The ‘pastoral of emotions’
  • The scholastic theory of emotional education
  • Emotional rhetoric: the manufacture of laughter and shame
  • The scripting of emotional persuasion
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Figure credits
  • Index