Multilingualism and multiculturalism in the pre-modern age: Medieval Welsh and Icelandic literature in a literature survey course. Interdisciplinary approaches on a Pan-European level

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As much as we all need to observe our own disciplinary limitations, no solid and comprehensive course on pre-modern literature can simply ignore the host of closely related and approximately contemporary texts of great influence but written in different languages. They simply belong to the same ‘canon,’ that is, the larger cultural context, and require a careful consideration to do justice to the global picture that we want to identify and analyze concerning medieval or early modern literature. How could we neglect, for instance, to incorporate Welsh (The Four Branches of the Mabinogi) and Icelandic, or Old Norse (Njal’s Saga), literature into our university courses, when we try to recognize and comprehend universals, archetypal elements, ethical and moral issues within the broader medieval context and across linguistic boundaries? Experience tells us that the more ‘exotic’ some of our texts are that we teach at various university levels, the more we can reach the present student generation, particularly when the narrators address subliminal issues that have lingered on until today and continue to reemerge and reveal their profound relevance, even if then in slightly changed form and appearance. This paper will address both theoretical and methodological questions underlying this huge pedagogical challenge, and will examine how we can enlist those narratives composed in very different languages for the so-called ‘core’ classes in English or other literature courses focusing on cultural, philosophical, anthropological, or gender issues. Embracing the concept of multilingualism and multiculturalism, this paper proposes that we pursue a much more interdisciplinary approach to Medieval Studies. There are not only good pedagogical and methodological reasons to widen the scope of our investigations. The two narratives mentioned above, apart from many others probably well known in the British Isles and on the Continent, both among the elites and the lower social classes (in oral form), exerted deep influence on the larger history of mentality, addressing archetypal issues, such as the topic of catabasis, travel to the other world, land settlement, treason, hatred, and war, and then also peace settlement and the foundation of a family, a people, and a nation. For the larger purpose of this paper, we could also investigate the universal themes of King Arthur and the Grail, all closely interwoven into the rich fabric of medieval and early modern literature and culture, transgressing all linguistic, historical, and even generic limitations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)357-382
Number of pages26
JournalLeuvense Bijdragen
StatePublished - 2020


  • Chaucer
  • Gwerful Mechain
  • Mabinogi
  • Medieval Welsh literature
  • Medieval archetypes
  • Medieval multilingualism
  • Medieval women’s literature
  • Monsters
  • Njál’s Saga
  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
  • The ‘Otherworld’

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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