Characteristics of medievalism genres topics works representatives

Medieval literature

We call medieval literature that which developed in the West between the 5th and 15th centuries, between the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the fall of the Byzantine Empire (Eastern Roman Empire); a thousand-year period between antiquity and the Modern Age in which different peoples and cultures evolved. Un this article we will provide you the Characteristics of medievalism.

When we speak of medieval literature, it is to refer mainly to European and Near Eastern literature, due to the interaction of Christian and Islamic cultures in Europe, especially in Spain.

Despite being classified as a “dark age”, during those thousand years the main modern languages ​​were formed, literary genres were developed and several of the classics that continue to nurture universal culture were written, such as the Divine Comedy , the Song of Mine Cid or the Canterbury Tales .

Characteristics of medieval literature

Use of Latin

Although the Roman Empire in Europe disintegrated, Latin continued to be the literary language par excellence, although it also had a wide use in religious and diplomatic communications.

Modern languages

During the Middle Ages, especially from the 10th century on, languages ​​derived from Latin and other Indo-European languages ​​developed: Spanish, Catalan, Galician, Italian, French, English, German, etc.


A large number of lyrical, humorous, epic and religious poems are created anonymously, that is, as part of a tradition and without the author being known. This is the case, for example, of the Cantar del Mine Cid .

Religious literature and secular literature

Medieval literature can be divided into two main branches: religious literature, generally written in Latin; and profane literature, which will be developed in the vulgar or national languages.

Predominance of the verse

Although many ancient literary genres continue, poetry and verse will be the predominant form in both cult and popular literature.

Islamic literature and Christian literature

Throughout the Middle Ages a relationship developed, partly conflictive but undoubtedly enriching, between the Islamic and Christian kingdoms. Thanks to this relationship, much of the Greek cultural heritage returns to the West through Arabic translations.

Nordic literature

During the High Middle Ages, the Slavic and Germanic peoples became present in the rest of Europe, bringing their gods, myths and poetic forms, such as the Icelandic sagas, or the Germanic mythology.


The people who could read and write were few and mostly belonged to the clergy or the nobility, where there was also a lot of illiteracy, so it is natural that the literature was mainly oral.

Monks, pilgrims and troubadours

The spread of cultured literature was largely due to the role played by monasteries and other religious centers in the preservation and reproduction of classical and religious texts.

At the same time, in the preservation and dissemination of popular culture, minstrels and troubadours were fundamental, as well as those people who crossed kingdoms on pilgrimage trips, such as the famous “Camino de Santiago”.

Didactic literature

Literature, especially the cultured and religious, was didactic and moralizing, trying to transmit teachings and ethical and Christian values .

Genres of medieval literature 

Religious literature

In the field of religious literature the main literary genres are religious hymns and poems, and hagiographies (the lives of the saints). In the former, the poems of Saint Francis of Assisi stand out, as well as hymns such as the Stabat Mater (“There was the Mother”, 13th century) and Dies Irae (Day of Wrath, 13th century).

Among the lives of saints or hagiographies most read throughout the Middle Ages is the Golden Legend , by the Italian Jacopo da Varazze (in Spanish Santiago de la Vorágine, 1230-1298).

Profane literature

Genres such as lyric, deed songs, chivalric novels and stories and tales flourished both among the nobles and in the peasant and artisan estates.

  • The lyric

The lyrics include forms such as, taking the example of Spain, Mozarabic jarchas, Galician-Portuguese and Catalan cantigas, Castilian Christmas carols, among others.

On the other hand, much of modern poetry owes a debt to the Provençal troubadour lyric of the 12th century, devoted mainly to courtly love and which quickly spread through Spain, France and Italy.

  • Songs of deed

This genre is heir to ancient epic poetry and used to be performed by minstrels and pilgrim singers. Although it will also be practiced by educated authors, reaching its maximum expression with the Cantar de Mio Cid (12th century).

  • Chivalric novels

They are texts of prose fiction, stories that revolve around the values ​​of courtly love and chivalry, full of sets, adventures and fantastic events of magic and witchcraft.

  • Stories and Chronicles 

At the end of the Middle Ages, in the 14th century, a narrative genre that still remains with us, the story, is consolidated. Three works from that century stand out: the Decameron , by Giovanni Boccaccio, the Canterbury Tales , by Geoffrey Chaucer, and El Conde Lucanor , by Don Juan Manuel.

In these stories, popular humor and criticism of the customs of the time emerge (especially clergymen and nobles), thus approaching the themes of modern literature.

Topics of medieval literature


The search for salvation, the imitation of Christ and the spread of Christian values ​​are dominant themes during the Middle Ages. And it is natural that this is the case, because many authors, anonymous and well-known, are part of the clergy.

Nor should we forget that during this millennium the Christianization of Europe continues, and there is also the confrontation with Islam.

Polite love 

It deals with the romantic relationship between a gentleman and a lady, which flourished in the various courts of Europe, present in Provençal lyric, chivalric novels and other literary forms.

It is the direct predecessor of romantic love, which continues to be the object of attention in various literary forms and other contemporary artistic disciplines.

Myths and legends

They are especially present in Anglo-German and Nordic epic poetry, where creation myths, legends and stories such as those collected by the Eddas and Scandinavian sagas are told, or by poems such as the Song of the Nibelungs .

Bestiaries and fantastic trips

Travel stories, real and fantastic, and bestiaries (compilations with descriptions of fantastic animals such as dragons, griffins, and unicorns) are frequent and widely read.


It is the quintessential theme of the Middle Ages, chivalric stories, inspired by historical figures and events, such as the Cid or the Crusades, but also by legends and fictions, such as the Amadís de Gaula .

Main works and their representatives

Beowulf , anonymous (10th century)

Epic poem written in Old English that tells the story of the hero of the same name facing monsters and dragons.

Song of Roldán , anonymous (11th century)

It is an epic poem in old French that narrates the confrontation of the Count of Roldán with Saracen (Muslim) troops, sometime in the 8th century. He exerted a great influence on the creation of other songs of deed.

Rubaiyat , Omar Jayam (11th century)

Collection of poems dedicated to wine, love and the joys of life. This Persian poet was also an astronomer and mathematician, and his poems are still read today.

Song of mine Cid , anonymous (12th century)

It is considered the first extensive poetic work of Spanish poetry and narrates the heroic deeds of Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, the Cid Campeador.

Perceval and the Holy Grail , Chrétien de Troyes (12th century)

Unfinished novel where the search for the Holy Grail is mentioned for the first time. Chrétien de Troyes is considered by some critics as the creator of the western novel.

Roman de la Rose , Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meung (13th century)

It is a poem with more than twenty thousand verses dedicated to courtly love. It was a widely read and reproduced text in Europe.

Golden Legend , Jacobo (or Santiago) from La Vorágine (13th century)

Also known as the Golden Legend , it is a compilation of biographies of saints that was widely copied and read in the late Middle Ages .

Letters of Abelard and Heloise (13th century)

It tells the story of an intense and unhappy love through the voice of its protagonists. Eloísa is considered the first known woman of letters in the West.

Cantigas de Santa María , Alfonso X the Wise (13th century)

Poems dedicated to the Virgin Mary written in Galician-Portuguese, sing miracles that occurred thanks to the intervention of the Virgin, and is considered one of the most important compilations of troubadour lyrics.

Song of the Nibelungs , anonymous (13th century)

It is a Germanic deed song that brings together historical events with legends, myths and beliefs. It is considered one of the foundational texts of German culture.

Amadís de Gaula , anonymous (14th century)

Although its definitive edition is from the 15th century, it is a Spanish work from the previous century and it is the most famous and popular chivalric novel of the late Middle Ages.

Divine Comedy , Dante Alighieri (14th century)

It is an extensive poetic work, which links Christianity with the classical tradition, considered one of the masterpieces of Italian literature, and of the universal one.

Book of good love , Juan Ruiz (archpriest of Hita) (14th century)

It is a fictional autobiography written in verse by this clergyman born in Alcalá de Henares, Spain. It is considered one of the top works of Spanish poetry of all time.

Songbook , Francesco Petrarca (14th century)

The Songbook consists of more than three hundred sonnets and poems about love, written in Tuscan, which strongly influenced European lyric.

Decameron , Giovanni Boccaccio (14th century)

There are a hundred stories written in Florentine style about a group of people fleeing the plague, where topics such as love, death and humor are discussed. It is considered a classic of universal literature.

Canterbury Tales , Geoffrey Chaucer (14th century)

During a pilgrimage a group of characters is exchanging stories about love, religion, taxes and other matters of interest of the time. It is a fundamental work of English literature.

Count Lucanor , Don Juan Manuel (14th century)

It is a collection of fifty stories with morals structured around two figures: Count Lucanor and his adviser Patronio. It is a compilation of literary traditions that incorporates Arabic and even Indian literary traditions.

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