Prolegomena to the Study of Early Medieval Emotions

Saturday, January 7, 2012: 2:50 PM
Chicago Ballroom C (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Nira Pancer, University of Haifa
Evanescent by nature, emotions are not easily decipherable, and the more we move back in time, the more elusive they become. Moreover, the scarcity of emotion words in early medieval literature makes the task of grasping them even more challenging. While the traditional reading, which consists in mapping and analyzing emotion words, remains undoubtedly the most objective approach, it is not always sufficient to fully capture the emotional richness encapsulated in the narratives. This paper constitutes an attempt to provide a methodological framework, fruit of numerous layers of reading, able to unveil the emotional unspoken. A combination of approaches, including a kind of informed intuitive reading which uses the historian’s sensibility as a resonance chamber able to perceive unuttered or hidden affects, and a contextualization of the expressed or unexpressed emotion words in standardized emotional scripts,  will be argued for the Merovingian corpus. This method is meant to help detect emotions when they are not actually expressed or make sense of them when they are too vague.  The case of Waddo, recounted by Gregory of Tours, will be closely examined both to clarify the method and to answer objections to the study of unuttered emotions.