Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Brothers and Sisters in Medieval European Literature

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Brothers and Sisters in Medieval European Literature

Article excerpt

Carolyne Larrington, Brothers and Sisters in Medieval European Literature (Woodbridge: York Medieval Press and Boydell Press; Rochester, NY: Boydell & Brewer, 2015). x + 275 pp. ISBN 1-903153-62-8. $99.00.

In this book, Carolyne Larrington uses a chronologically and geographically diverse collection of literary sources to explore sibling relationships in the medieval period. Brothers and sisters have attracted increased attention from scholars of the Middle Ages in recent years, and Larrington's work is a welcome addition to this growing body of scholarship. It is encyclopedic in its coverage of the different stories of sibling interactions that appear in medieval literature. In eight chapters, Larrington examines the positive and negative aspects of brothers' and sisters' relationships in a variety of contexts. Themes include siblings and inheritance, twins, sibling loyalty and solidarity, siblings in religious communities, sibling violence and rivalry, sibling incest, fictive siblinghood, siblings in old age, and siblings mourning dead brothers and sisters. Larrington relies heavily on the Icelandic sagas in her analysis, but a multitude of other texts appear here as well, including Arthurian romances in multiple languages, the Nibelungenlied, the Decameron, the Mabinogion, and countless shorter poems and moralizing stories, to name only a few.

The encyclopedic scope of this book is one of its strengths (anyone looking for particular types of sibling stories in medieval literature should consult this work first), but it is also one of its weaknesses. Larrington's thematic approach leads her to group together similar stories about sibling interactions, even if they appear in literary works widely separated in terms of geography and chronology. In the process, she does not address in detail questions about whether or not the unique cultures of different parts of Europe - rural Iceland in the high Middle Ages versus late medieval urban Italy, for example - shaped the ways in which authors wrote about sibling relationships. …

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