English and Comparative Literature
How did medieval people imagine their bodies in terms of health and illness? What did they feel, or say they felt, when they were sick? What stories did they tell about why some people fell ill while others didn’t, and how it could be dealt with? From mundane preoccupations such as skincare or diet to life-altering maladies such as leprosy or dementia, physical and mental distress had a firm hold on the medieval imagination, calling for a wealth of explanations, coping methods, and lots of venting, whether in real life or in fiction. The suffering or malfunctioning body has always been a matter of personal and social concern from antiquity to the present, but writers, thinkers, and medical practitioners of the Middle Ages grappled with it under their own peculiar sets of terms, some shocking, some familiar, but all intriguing. In this seminar, we will explore how medieval literary works present illness and health in modes spanning personal suffering, diagnosis, healing, and caregiving.
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