English 170

Literature and the Arts: The Deaths and Lives of Saints

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Fall 2016 Thornbury, Emily V.
MWF 11-12 note new location: 105 Dwinelle

Book List

Bjork, Robert E.: The Old English Poems of Cynewulf; Ferguson, George: Signs and Symbols in Christian Art; Julian of Norwich: Revelations of Divine Love; King, John N.: Foxe's Book of Martyrs: Select Narratives; Stace, Christopher: Jacobus de Voragine: The Golden Legend: Selections; White, Carolinne: Early Christian Lives; White, Carolinne: Lives of Roman Christian Women

Other Readings and Media

Further material on bCourses


The paradox of Western sainthood is summed up by a phrase from Latin calendars: dies natalis, “birthday.” Marking a saint’s chief feast, the dies natalis celebrates the day of his or her death: death as birth will form one of the central threads in our examination of the literature and art surrounding holy people. Though our primary focus will be the Western Middle Ages, our study will begin with the early Christian period, and range up to the profound religious transformations that accompanied the discovery of the New World and the Protestant Reformation.

In this course, we will read classic works of hagiography—stories of the lives and deaths of saints—that formed a central part of the Western literary tradition, inspiring thousands of related narratives and creating tropes that remain important to this day; and we will also analyze the visual art, especially painting and sculpture, connected with the cult of saints. Central themes and issues that we will confront include the nature of the historical and the miraculous; imitation in art and life; and the value placed on human suffering. Though we will only be able to cover a small part of this vast tradition, students who complete this course will be well-equipped for further study of the literature and art on saints.

This section of English 170 satisfies the pre-1800 requirement for the English major.

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