Medieval SensibilitiesA History of Emotions in the Middle Ages
Medieval Sensibilities
A History of Emotions in the Middle Ages
Translated by Robert Shaw

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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  • June 2018 (pb)
    June 2018 (hb)
  • 392 pages
  • 152 x 229 mm / 6 x 9 in
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  • 9781509514656
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Table of Contents




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




Figure credits


About the Author

Damien Boquet is Lecturer in History at the University of Aix-Marseille.

Piroska Nagy is Professor of Medieval History at the University of Quebec at Montreal.

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‘This pathbreaking book, from two pioneer researchers on the history of emotions, tracks the unfolding of a gradual “emotional revolution,” beginning in late antiquity, that slowly transformed medieval society from top to bottom. An ancient ideal of calm self-control was supplanted by a vision of God and human beings bound together by emotional, even passionate, relationships. Every dimension of social life is brought into the story, from religion to politics, to gender, to popular culture, building a new understanding of the medieval world that sweeps aside the all-too-resilient clichés of Johan Huizinga and Norbert Elias.’
William M. Reddy, [Professor Emeritus] Duke University

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