What were the Crusades’ impact on medieval literature?

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The Crusades represent a series of religious wars that lasted from the eleventh to the seventeenth century. Mostly, they took part in western Asia and were directed and financed by the European Roman Catholic Church. They were usually fought against the Muslims to reclaim the Christian Holy Land or against other peoples accused of paganism and heresy.

As the Crusades were viewed as “holy wars,” they constituted an important concern of the medieval period. Therefore, they influenced medieval literature and shaped the set of values and character prototypes that it presented. These character prototypes are diverse, from the saint-type character who lives his life only to do God’s bidding to the Christian warrior who protects his land and faith against pagans.

In France, the Crusades determined the emergence of the “chansons de geste.” These were poems that celebrated acts of chivalry. The “chansons” were influenced by the motif of the Germanic warrior and the motif of the Christian saint. The most famous example is La Chanson de Roland (The Song of Roland), a poem that tells of the heroic deeds of Charlemagne of France.

Another literary theme influenced by the Crusades was courtly love. The point of view in this kind of poetry is influenced by the Arab Muslims, whom the Crusaders fought against. The encounter with Muslim arts and manners led to a change in the European perception of women. From the sinful daughters of Eve (as perceived by the early Christians), women became objects of worship (as they were in Arab literature). In courtly love poetry, the lover’s emotions are intense, and he idealizes his beloved.

The combination of the “chansons de geste” and the theme of courtly love resulted in a new genre called the romance. Introducing the quest theme alongside literary motifs such as the knight and the courtly lady, romances mostly focused on adventure and the heroes’ attempts to better themselves. The best-known examples are the tales about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

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