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Naturally Universal: How Aristotle Explains the Success of Medieval French Song

General Programming

dateFebruary 13, 2023 timeMonday, 6:30pm EST location Buell Hall, East Gallery (Maison Française), Columbia University
  • The Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities
  • Society for Senior Scholars
  • Medieval & Renaissance Studies
  • Department of Music
  • Columbia Maison Française
email address [email protected]
  • Free and open to the public
  • Registration required. See details.
Illustration of a dog with body made out of illegible letters, from the manuscript Harley MS 647 c. 820-840

Poets and singers in a number of medieval vernacular languages reached non-native audiences and inspired speakers of other languages to compose in theirs, and many imagined their compositions enjoying a universality similar to that of cosmopolitan languages like Latin and Arabic. An interesting rationalization of these aspirations can be discerned in a short verse narrative of a well-known episode in the youth of Alexander the Great, conqueror of India, together with his tutor, the philosopher Aristotle. Not only does it involve Greeks and Indians singing French songs and cosplaying French lovers, but the philosopher is induced to pretend to be a horse and then justifies his behavior as "natural," with far-reaching implications that this talk will explore.

Sarah Kay is Professor Emerita in the Department of French Literature, Thought and Culture at New York University and Life Fellow at Girton College, University of Cambridge. In Spring 2023, she is Distinguished Visiting Scholar in the Columbia Society of Senior Scholars.

Please email [email protected] to request disability accommodations. Advance notice is necessary to arrange for some accessibility needs.