Medieval Studies Program Faculty Books

Cosmos and Community in Early Medieval Art

In the rapidly changing world of the early Middle Ages, depictions of the cosmos represented a consistent point of reference across the three dominant states—the Frankish, Byzantine, and Islamic Empires. As these empires diverged from their Greco-Roman roots between 700 and 1000 A.D. and established distinctive medieval artistic traditions, cosmic imagery created a web of visual continuity, though local meanings of these images varied greatly. Benjamin Anderson uses thrones, tables, mantles, frescoes, and manuscripts to show how cosmological motifs informed relationships between individuals, especially the ruling elite, and communities, demonstrating how domestic and global politics informed the production and reception of these depictions

. The first book to consider such imagery across the dramatically diverse cultures of Western Europe, Byzantium, and the Islamic Middle East, Cosmos and Community in Early Medieval Art illuminates the distinctions between the cosmological art of these three cultural spheres, and reasserts the centrality of astronomical imagery to the study of art history.

Cover art for Cosmos and Community in Early Medieval Art

Composing the World: Harmony in the Medieval Platonic Cosmos

"We can hear the universe!" This was the triumphant proclamation at a February 2016 press conference announcing that the Laser Interferometer Gravity Observatory (LIGO) had detected a "transient gravitational-wave signal." What LIGO heard in the morning hours of September 14, 2015 was the vibration of cosmic forces unleashed with mind-boggling power across a cosmic medium of equally mind-boggling expansiveness: the transient ripple of two black holes colliding more than a billion years ago. The confirmation of gravitational waves sent tremors through the scientific community, but the public imagination was more captivated by the sonic translation of the cosmic signal, a sound detectable only through an act of carefully attuned listening. As astrophysicist Szabolcs Marka remarked, "Until this moment, we had our eyes on the sky and we couldn't hear the music. The skies will never be the same."

Taking in hand this current "discovery" that we can listen to the cosmos, Andrew Hicks argues that sound--and the harmonious coordination of sounds, sources, and listeners--has always been an integral part of the history of studying the cosmos. Composing the World charts one constellation of musical metaphors, analogies, and expressive modalities embedded within a late-ancient and medieval cosmological discourse: that of a cosmos animated and choreographed according to a specifically musical aesthetic. The specific historical terrain of Hicks' discussion centers upon the world of twelfth-century philosophy, and from there he offers a new intellectual history of the role of harmony in medieval cosmological discourse, a discourse which itself focused on the reception and development of Platonism. 

Hicks illuminates how a cosmological aesthetics based on the "music of the spheres" both governed the moral, physical, and psychic equilibrium of the human, and assured the coherence of the universe as a whole. With a rare convergence of musicological, philosophical, and philological rigor, Hicks presents a narrative tour through medieval cosmology with reflections on important philosophical movements along the way, raising connections to Cartesian dualism, Uexküll's theoretical biology, and Deleuze and Guattari's musically inspired language of milieus and (de)territorialization. Hicks ultimately suggests that the models of musical cosmology popular in late antiquity and the twelfth century are relevant to our modern philosophical and scientific undertakings. Impeccably researched and beautifully written, Composing the World will resonate with a variety of readers, and it encourages us to rethink the role of music and sound within our greater understanding of the universe.

Palmyra 1885: The Wolfe Expedition and the Photographs of John Henry Haynes

Home to the legendary Queen Zenobia, the Syrian oasis of Palmyra – known as ‘the Pearl of the Desert’ – was one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world. A key stop on the Silk Road, it was a vital link between the East and the West, and a prize fought over by successive conquering armies.

European adventurers began exploring Palmyra’s priceless Roman ruins in the 17th century, but it wasn’t until the advent of photography in the 19th century that the public became aware of its scale and majesty. In 1885, the sight of Palmyra astounded members of the Wolfe Expedition as they journeyed home from Mesopotamia. The group’s photographer, John Henry Haynes, documented the monumental temples, tombs and colonnades in more than a hundred invaluable images.

Since then, Haynes and his work have largely been forgotten, and the forces of the self-styled Islamic State have destroyed the key monuments of this world-renowned site, including the glorious Temple of Bel. Haynes’s images of Palmyra – published here for the first time – are all the more poignant.

Group Identity and Religious Individuality in Late Antiquity

To understand the past, we necessarily group people together and, consequently, frequently assume that all of its members share the same attributes. In this ground-breaking volume, Eric Rebillard and J?rg R?pke bring renowned scholars together to challenge this norm by seeking to rediscover the individual and to explore the dynamics between individuals and the groups to which they belong.


Although Muhammad had no natural sons who reached the age of maturity, Islamic sources report that he adopted a man named Zayd shortly before receiving his first revelation. This "son of Muhammad" was the Prophet's heir for the next fifteen or twenty years. He was the first adult male to become a Muslim and the only Muslim apart from Mu?ammad whose name is mentioned in the Qur'an. Eventually, Mu?ammad would repudiate Zayd as his son, abolish the institution of adoption, and send Zayd to certain death on a battlefield in southern Jordan.

Curiously, Zayd has remained a marginal figure in both Islamic and Western scholarship. David S. Powers now attempts to restore Zayd to his rightful position at the center of the narrative of the Prophet Muhammad and the beginnings of Islam. To do so, he mines traces left behind in commentaries on the Qur'an, in biographical dictionaries, and in historical chronicles, reading these sources against analogues in the Hebrew Bible. Powers demonstrates that in the accounts preserved in these sources, Zayd's character is modeled on those of biblical figures such as Isaac, Ishmael, Joseph, and Uriah the Hittite. This modeling process was deployed by early Muslim storytellers to address two key issues, Powers contends: the bitter conflict over succession to Mu?ammad and the key theological doctrine of the finality of prophecy. Both Zayd's death on a battlefield and Mu?ammad's repudiation of his adopted son and heir were after-the-fact constructions driven by political and theological imperatives.

Transformations of Religious Practices in Late Antiquity

The eighteen papers collected in this volume - fifteen of which are published in English for the first time - explore the transformations of religious practices between the third and the fifth centuries in the Western part of the Roman Empire. They share an approach that privileges the study of processes and interactions and does not take for granted the categories and roles traditionally ascribed to social actors. A first group of papers focuses on the sermons and letters of Augustine of Hippo. These texts are precious evidence for balancing the clerical perspective that characterizes most of our sources and can thus shed a different light on the problem of Christianization. The second group collects papers that propose to shift attention from the construction of heresies to that of orthodoxy through the case-study of the controversy of Augustine against Pelagius and Julian of Eclanum. A last group present studies that look at the complex relation between burial and religion, with a particular focus on the role played by the church in the organization of the burial of Christians in Late Antiquity.

Imagining the Passion in a Multiconfessional Castile

Recent research into the texts, practices, and visual culture of late medieval devotional life in western Europe has clearly demonstrated the centrality of devotions to Christ’s Passion. The situation in Castile, however, could not have been more different. Prior to the final decades of the fifteenth century, individual relationships to Christ established through the use of “personalized” Passion imagery simply do not appear to have been a component of Castilian devotional culture.

In Imagining the Passion in a Multiconfessional Castile, Cynthia Robinson argues that it is necessary to reorient discussions of late medieval religious art produced and used in Castile, placing Iberian devotional art in the context of Iberian devotional practice. Instead of focusing on the segregation of the religious lives of members of late medieval Iberia’s much-discussed “Three Confessions” (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), Robinson offers concrete evidence of the profound impact of each sect on the other two.

Imagining the Passion in a Multiconfessional Castile ranges across traditional disciplinary and cultural divides. Robinson considers altarpieces that differ radically from their European contemporaries; architectural ornament; a rare series of narratives of Christ’s life; indulgenced prayers; Muslim and Jewish mystical texts; lives, hours, devotions, and Psalters of and to the Virgin which appear to be uniquely Iberian and find resonances in both Hebrew and Arabic mystical literature; sacred gardens and trees in both textual and visual culture from Muslim, Christian, and Jewish contexts; and preaching manuals written by converted Jews. Together, these texts and images offer striking evidence of the plurality of late medieval Iberian religious life, both within the supposed boundaries of a specific religion and in terms of each culture’s relationship with the other.

Christians and their Many Identities in Late Antiquity, North Africa, 200-450 CE

In Christians and Their Many Identities in Late Antiquity, North Africa, 200?450 CE, ?ric Rebillard explores how Christians in North Africa between the age of Tertullian and the age of Augustine were selective in identifying as Christian, giving salience to their religious identity only intermittently. By shifting the focus from groups to individuals, Rebillard more broadly questions the existence of bounded, stable, and homogeneous groups based on Christianness.

The Development of Islamic Law and Society in the Maghrib

The eleven essays in this collection treat the application of Islamic law in the Maghrib in the period between 1100 and 1500. The essays examine family law cases involving legal minority, guardianship, divorce, inheritance, bequests and endowments. Cumulatively, the cases bear witness to the effectiveness and efficiency of the Islamic legal system in this period.

The Cambridge Companion to Medieval English Culture.

Linked series of essays by experts on the literary, political, legal, literary, and artistic culture of medieval England, including its afterlife.

The Gendered Palimpsest: Women, Writing, and Representation in Early Christianity

Books and bodies, women and books, and the malleable word and flesh lie thematically at the center of The Gendered Palimpsest, which explores the roles that women played in the production, reproduction, and dissemination of early Christian books, and how the representation of female characters was contested through the medium of writing and copying. The book is organized in two sections, the first of which treats historical questions: To what extent were women authors, scribes, book-lenders, and patrons of early Christian literature? How should we understand the representation of women readers in ascetic literature? The second section of the book turns to text-critical questions: How and why were stories of women modified in the process of copying? And how did debates about asceticism--and, more specifically, the human body--find their way into the textual transmission of canonical and apocryphal literature?

Language and Ritual in Sabellic Italy

The Iguvine Tables are among the most invaluable documents of Italic linguistics and religion. Seven bronze tablets discovered in 1444 in the Umbrian town of Gubbio, they record the rites and sacral laws of a priestly brotherhood, the Fratres Atiedii. Taking an interdisciplinary approach that combines philological and linguistic, as well as ritual analysis, Michael Weiss not only addresses the many interpretive cruces that have puzzled scholars for a century and a half, but also constructs a coherent theory of the entire ritual performance described on Tables III and IV. In addition, Weiss sheds light on many questions of Roman ritual practice and places the Iguvine Tables in their broader Italic and Indo-European contexts.

Claustrophilia: the Erotics of Enclosure in Medieval Literature

If ours is a cultural moment intensely fascinated with enclosed space?the cubicles of our workplaces, the confessionals of our churches, the bedrooms of reality television, and all the various closets we come out of and retreat into ? our fascination isn?t entirely new. This book argues that the religious literature of the late Middle Ages articulates with great subtlety and vividness the extent to which all being is enclosed being. In other words, we?re all in the closet, and that might be a good thing. Through extended readings of English, French, and Italian writers of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, Claustrophilia shows that medieval enclosures actually make room for desires and communities that a poetics of pure openness would exclude. When God holds and confines, revelation is in the boundaries and not beyond them. Accordingly, this book says, love your closet; it is only through what holds and defines us that we can know and love the world.

Preaching the Converted: The Style and Rhetoric of the Vercelli Book Homilies

The Vercelli Book is one of the oldest surviving collections of Old English homilies and poems, compiled in England in the tenth century. Preaching the Converted provides a sustained literary analysis of the book?s prose homilies and demonstrates that they employ rhetorical techniques commonly associated with vernacular verse. The study argues that the dazzling textual complexity of these homilies rivals the most accomplished examples of Old English poetry. Highlighting the use of word play, verbal and structural repetition, elaborate catalogues, and figurative language, Samantha Zacher's study of the Vercelli Book fills a gap in the history of English preaching by foregrounding the significance of these prose homilies as an intermediary form. Also analyzing the Latin and vernacular sources behind the Vercelli texts to reveal the theological and formal interests informing the collection as a whole, Preaching the Converted is a rigorous examination of Old English homiletic rhetoric and poetics.

The Care of the Dead in Late Antiquity

In this translation of Religion et S?pulture: L'Eglise, les vivants et les morts dans l'Antiquit? tardive, Rebillard fundamentally changes our understanding of early Christianity. The Care of the Dead in Late Antiquity will force scholars of the period to rethink their assumptions about early Christians as separate from their pagan contemporaries in daily life and ritual practice.

Body Against Soul: Gender and Sowlehele in Middle English Allegory

The topic of this book is one that runs through all of Western history and remains of primary interest to modern theorists, "how ''my' body relates to 'me.'" In the allegorical tradition traced by this study, a male person could imagine himself as a being populated by female personifications, because Latin and Romance languages tended to gender abstract nouns as female. However, since Middle English had ceased to inflect abstract nouns as male or female, writers were free to gender abstractions like "Will" or "Reason" any way they liked. This permitted some psychological allegories to avoid the representational tension caused by placing a female soul inside a male body, instead creating surprisingly queer same-sex inner worlds. The didactic intent driving sowlehele ("soul-heal") is, it turns out, complicated by the erotics of the struggle to establish a hierarchy of the self's inner powers.

Power in the Portrayal: Representations of Jews and Muslims in Eleventh- and Twelfth-Century Islamic Spain

Power in the Portrayal unveils a fresh and vital perspective on power relations in eleventh- and twelfth-century Muslim Spain as reflected in historical and literary texts of the period.