Richard Harris writes to let us know of a conference to be held next year on the theme of Proverbia Septentrionalia. The Uses of the Proverb in the Medieval Cultures of Northern Europe.
It will be held at St Thomas More College in Saskatoon, Canada, on 11-13 November 2011. A Call for Papers has just been issued (click the link above). Here’s what the conference website says about its aims:
At this conference we will examine the uses of the proverb in the medieval cultures of northern Europe, in particular how such phrases are employed in literature and in non-fictional writings. The discipline of paroemiology, or the study of proverbs, recognizes their origins as often preceding the literate stage of societies. In fact, they must have made up a significant element in that formulaic framework by which knowledge and wisdom were fixed and transmitted generationally in the communities of pre-literate humanity. The still unmapped syntactic structure of the paroemial form lent itself both to mnemonic efficiency and to rhetorical persuasion—even today, there are cultures in Africa where litigation and governmental advice are expressed proverbially, and the conduct of law in our own societies still employs proverbial material occasionally, just as do our politicians.
Aristotle was of the view that proverbs constituted the remains of man’s early philosophy which survived through their brevity and cleverness, and whole books of sacred texts are devoted to these formulaic dictums upon just and wise behaviour. In this context, the entertainment of The Fables of Aesop is surely subordinate to their grounding in the wisdom often encapsulated at their close with a sentence of proverbial nature. The fact of proverbs arising from the oral heritage of a culture has led some to opine, with Francis Bacon, that “The genius, wit and spirit of a nation are discovered in its proverbs,” but whether such pursuits are productive is doubtful. Of greater use to the discipline is the acknowledgement that proverb texts have, and indeed may be defined by, their own generative structure, a structure to which Archer Taylor referred, if unconsciously, when he observed, “An incommunicable quality tells us this sentence is proverbial and that one is not.”
The presence of this structure in texts incorporated in poems and stories marks such passages not merely as instructive in themselves, but also as resonating with accepted communal wisdom in ways that can help us understand the works in which they occur. Papers are welcome at this conference on any aspect of proverbial material in north European medieval literature and culture.