Academic Wednesday: Cheating at Chaucer

Okay, so this week has been… uh, hardcore, academically speaking. Between Monday and Friday of this week I have two essays, four translations, two seminars to read for, my draft dissertation due, and a presentation, as well as various other extra-curricular and related stuff. It’s a lot. A lot! A fair bit of it is over now (I’ve handed in my draft dissertation and one of the essays, done two of the translations and one of the seminars, and the presentation), but I’m still feeling… a little overwhelmed.

I’ve been reading a lot of academic stuff, though, as a result of having ten gazillion things to do — more than I’ve been reading fiction — so at least I have plenty to talk about. It’s just a little hard to know where to start…

Academic Wednesday #3: Lent Term, Week 2

Academic Wednesdays

Okay, let’s start with this: one of the main books we recommend to people doing the Irish part of the ASNaC course is Jeffrey Gantz’s Early Irish Myths and Sagas. It contains translations of a bunch of different medieval Irish stories, mostly from what people call the Mythological and Ulster Cycles.

If you’re interested in medieval Irish literature but you’re not sure if you’re ready to pick up the Tain (maybe you want something shorter?), this is the place to start. The stories vary in length but the fact that they’re all in one fairly small paperback book means none of them are very long. I’ve recommended this to a lot of people who’ve come to me asking for recommendations. Okay, so I don’t agree with everything Gantz says in his introductions to the texts, but still, it’s a useful book.

And it’s only £1.99 on Kindle. Which is just a total bargain. (If you’re in the US, you can find it here, minus the bargain. Sorry.)

early irish myths

I realised this week that there are actually a whole bunch of medieval texts available cheaply on Kindle and I made a masterpost of them, if anyone’s interested.

Right, now that I’ve plugged that particular bargain, I’ll move on to things I’ve been reading more specifically this week.

I’ve continued with The Occult in Medieval Europe, which I wrote about last week. Conclusion? Absolutely hilarious. Honestly, some of the stuff in there is just so funny. Medieval beliefs about magic are fascinating, and so are the hugely understated ways that they phrase things. My flatmate and I were greatly amused by the description of how to summon spirits, too.

agony aunt

Medieval agony aunts got all the fun questions….

‘Funny’ might not be how people usually describe academic literature about the Middle Ages but seriously, this book has made me crack up half a dozen times. I really want to get a copy, because the one I’m reading is due back to the library and I can see it being really useful to refer to for writing purposes, but it’s horribly expensive, so that’s not going to happen any time soon.

I also read some Chaucer for the first time! I’m taking this Middle English paper this year and almost everyone else in the class is an English student (rather than an ASNaC), so they’ve all done Chaucer before. I, however, have never read any of it, and I’m struggling a bit with the Middle English. (I might possibly have resorted to summaries and translations for a few things…)

the knight's tale

But I read The Knight’s Tale, without using any translations, and I took notes on it and so on, and I think I actually understood what was going on. It’s a weird story, really, for someone used to early medieval texts written in a monastic context. It’s set in a Classical setting, with Theseus as king of Athens, and there are a lot of references to Classical gods (though in their Roman aspect — Chaucer evidently knew the stories from Latin sources).

I’m used to Irish texts, which try to ignore the existence of the gods even when literally retelling the Odyssey, so that surprised me.

Since reading that last week I’ve also looked at The Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale (which is about alchemy and — for the most part — what a fraud it all is) and The Franklin’s Tale (which involves student magicians from Brittany), but I have to admit for both of those I used a translation into modern English. And possibly enjoyed the process more as a result.

Hey, I was in a hurry. Like I said, it’s been a hectic week.

Anyway, me and Chaucer are getting acquainted, which is probably much overdue. The Knight’s Tale is a fairly heavy one to start with, as it’s really long? (Another thing that surprised me as someone familiar with early medieval Irish texts, which tend to be brief — the Irish version of the Odyssey is less than 300 lines long.) But it’s a fairly accessible storyline, I think: I was able to get the hang of what was happening without needing online summaries for that one.

It’s also only 75p on Kindle with the original and modern translation — I read it as part of a huge collection that I can use for weight-lifting, but this seems a much more convenient way of reading it. No idea how much it is in the US as Amazon won’t display Kindle prices to me, but I wouldn’t imagine it’s a bank-breaker.


I’ve read a fair few other bits and pieces — enough that I haven’t had time to read a couple of fiction books I’ve been dying to read for ages. *single tear rolls down cheek* I keep telling myself if I get to the end of this week it’ll be okay, but I’m pretty sure next week will be the same…

But that’ll do for this week’s instalment of Academic Wednesdays! And yes. I still want a better name. And then I’ll make a better graphic.

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