Until a few weeks ago I had never heard the term Medieval Debate Poetry, but as soon as I began to read and learn about it, I realised that this was similar to a genre that I had loved whilst studying Classical Greek and follows the broad principles laid down by Socrates.
|The Owl and the Nightingale.|
Mediaeval Debate Poetry refers to a genre of poems popular in England and France during the late medieaval period.
In broad terms a debate poem is a dialogue between two natural opposites (e.g. sun and moon, dog and cat, winter and summer). Although the details can vary considerably, this is general definition of the literary form. The debates are necessarily highly emotionally charged, showing to maximum effect the contrasting values and personalities of the participants, and revealing their essentially opposite natures. On the surface, debate poems typically appear didactic - intended to teach, particularly when having moral instruction as an ulterior motive - but under this often lies a genuine dialogue between two equally paired opponents. At that time, a preoccupation with dichotomies in the known world was apparentt in nearly every type of literature, but only debate poetry was devoted entirely to the exploration of these dichotomies. The idea was that every thing – whether it be concrete, abstract, alive or inanimate – had a natural and logical opposite.The purpose of the debate poem, then, is to pit one of these things against its opposite.
Debate poems were also popular in Mesopotamian Sumerian-language literature and were part of the tradition of Arsacid and Sassanid Persian literature (third century BC - seventh century AD)and continued in later medieval Islamic Persian literature, being taken up by European scholars and adapted to the audiences they commanded.
© Diana Milne October 2017
If you would like to read the Owl and the Nightingale in it's entirety, here is the link