Revising History: Narratives of Thebes in the Middle Ages

Battles, Dominique , Department of English, University of Virginia
Kinney, Clare, Department of English, University of Virginia

This dissertation surveys the various retellings of the ancient legend of Thebes in the Middle Ages from the twelfth to the fifteenth century: the OF Roman de Thebes, Giovanni Boccaccio's Teseida, Geoffrey Chaucer's Anelida and Arcite and Knight's Tale, and John Lydgate's Siege of Thebes. I examine how each author locates the story of Thebes within differing historical paradigms, and I explore the dialogue within the tradition.

Chapter I examines Statius in the Middle Ages, exploring the body of material that mediated how medieval readers experienced the Thebaid, including school texts, commentaries and florilegia.

Chapter II examines the OF Roman de Th├Ębes within a twofold context, the chronicle accounts of the First Crusade and the Trojan War. The poet uses the Thebes legend to stage a conflict between the ancient Trojans and the medieval crusaders, emphasizing connections to Norman history and identity.

Chapter III examines Boccaccio's Teseida as an attempt to craft a typological link between Theban and Trojan history. Boccaccio creates an intervening conflict between the Theban and Trojan wars (the conflict at Athens) that combines the mode of conflict at Thebes (civil strife) and the source of conflict at Troy (a woman), thus linking Theban and Trojan history in an unprecedented way.

Chapter IV explores Chaucer's Theban poems, the Anelida and Arcite and the Knight's Tale, as separate phases of a single poetic enterprise to untangle the Theban legend from the various historical threads introduced by his predecessors and to explore Theban criminality as a distinct historical phenomenon. I examine how he resists the efforts of his predecessors to vanquish Theban criminality and how he returns to Thebes, both geographically and imaginatively.

Chapter V examines Lydgate's Siege of Thebes as an attempt to cleanse Theban history of its legendary curse. Lydgate revises Theban history, including the genealogy of the royal house of Thebes, in order to eradicate the notion of the cursed origins of the Theban line. His choice of the mirror for princes genre for the poem enables Lydgate to replace the prevailing, racially specilic, criteria for understanding the "Theban condition" with universal criteria of proper statesmanship.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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