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Mud fights, laments, romances and humor featured at festival of medieval readings

More than 50 medievalists gathered at the A.D. White House Dec. 8 for an annual festival of readings and song, sponsored by the Medieval Studies program. Laments, romances, humor and religious exhortations, in poetry and prose, were performed in a dozen medieval languages, showcasing "the breathtaking diversity of the materials in this period," said professor of English Andrew Galloway, who served as master of ceremonies.

While graduate students predominated among the performers, faculty members joined in the fun, including an antler-garbed Shawkat Toorawa, associate professor of Near Eastern studies, reciting in Arabic; a costumed Galloway and team recounting a third-century mud fight (from a vision reported by the soon-to-be martyred St. Perpetua); and professor of linguistics Wayne Harbert giving nuanced recitations.

Despite the festive atmosphere, the event held scholarly significance as well. "Reading aloud is really important for any poetry, but particularly in a world where everything was performance," said Galloway. "Nothing was read silently in the Middle Ages."

Sam Pell '13, whose high school Latin teacher had called him crazy for wanting to read "Odysseus" aloud, said, "There's something about hearing a medieval language the same way someone would have spoken it that brings alive the words on the page."

Galloway pointed to the highly specialized expertise required to perform the different texts, such as the "enormous" amount of research conducted by professor emerita of French literature Alice Colby-Hall in her authentic pronunciation of "Tristan."

In addition to prose recitations, two members of the newly formed Cornell Schola Cantorum, founder Lorraine Fitzmaurice '13 and Pell, performed Gregorian chants, and graduate student Kristen Streahle sang a 13th-century Italian love song.

The wide range of departments represented at the event highlight the interdisciplinary nature of the Program of Medieval Studies, said Zachary Yuzwa, a doctoral student in the program and who assembled the lengthy booklet of texts to be recited with the help of program manager Dianne Ferris.

"The event is a way to celebrate the end of the semester and enjoy each other," said Yuzwa, but even more importantly, "it's an opportunity to share our work and our passions."

Linda Glaser is a staff writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.

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Blaine Friedlander