Metaphor and Meaning

With the publication of volume 4, ‘Influence and Appropriation’, we’ve asked our fantastic contributors to write a blog post about their work.  First up is Jenny Smith, whose paper explores the influential power of metaphor in early modern literature.  Her article can be found here: Necessary Abuse: the Mirror as Metaphor in the Sixteenth Century

Over to Jenny:

My interest in metaphor is part of a long interest in language as an organisational principle of thought. Cerae’s call for papers on the theme of ‘Influence and Appropriation’ was an exhilarating opportunity to explore how metaphor influences thought and how metaphors accumulate, or appropriate, meaning. A case study is the metaphor of the mirror in sixteenth-century counsel, that is, the literature of advice.

Metaphor was one of the most important tropes in classical and early modern rhetoric. Just as it is in 20th– and 21st-century linguistics and philosophy of language, throughout its history metaphor in particular was considered not just a literary ornament but a fundamental principle of how humans conceive of the world. I wanted to historicize that. What was it, why was so much ink expended on it, and how did the readers and writers of those textbooks use metaphor in their non-rhetoric-textbook writing?

Elizabethan sources showed metaphor working in a cumulative way, allowing people to connect dissimilar concepts to perceive a coherent whole:

‘Such tricks hath strong imagination,
That if it would but apprehend some joy,
It comprehends some bringer of that joy;
Or in the night, imagining some fear,
How easy is a bush supposed a bear!

But … all their minds transfigured so together,
More witnesseth than fancy’s images
And grows to something of great constancy;
But, howsoever, strange and admirable.’

(A Midsummer Night’s Dream, V.I.18-27)

Most uses of the mirror in counsel either described the mind as a mirror, reflecting the counsel it received, or they described counsel itself as a mirror. Counsel could therefore have all the characteristics of a mirror: distorting, flattering to vanity, true and crystal clear, obscure and requiring painstaking interpretation, part of a chain of being, showing a positive or negative example for the viewer. As Spenser reminded Elizabeth in The Faerie Queene, counsel could be

‘nought but forgerie,

Fashion’d to please the eies of them, that pas,

Which see not perfect things but in a glas:

Yet is that glasse so gay that it can blynd

The wisest sight…’

(Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, Book VI, Proem, stanza 5, lines 3-7)

The mirror of counsel, like the mirror of Narcissus, could deceive a mind conditioned, as the Biblical mirror of St Paul had conditioned people, to ‘see not perfect things but in a glass’.

Mirrors of counsel could also function within the idea of a mirror as history, as in the Mirror for Magistrates, a text that reflects several ways of conceiving of history. The first, suppressed, edition was titled a ‘Memorial’, but from 1559 the title of ‘Mirror’ was so popular and appropriated so many times for other texts that the metaphor accumulated yet more layers of meaning.

The pedagogical practice of imitatio, that is the reading and imitating of many different authors as taught by Erasmus and other influential figures, was central to the persistence of all these layers of meaning shaping the Elizabethan world.

The sources were also immensely enjoyable to read. Elizabeth I has a reputation for being a crafty, canny and well-read writer; George Gascoigne and Stephen Gosson were delightful new discoveries who seemed to be no less so. My title is taken from Gosson’s Schoole of Abuse, a polemic against plays (by a former playwright), and from the rhetorical trope of catachresis, Latinized to abusio. Catachresis, as Puttenham said, is what happens when a metaphor seems too far-fetched, too awkward, too obscure. The tension between resemblance and difference in the two terms of a metaphor have influenced metaphor theory since Aristotle, and this tension fascinates me too. The mirror shows both resemblance and difference: when Paul described human understanding as seeing ‘through a glass darkly’, it was a metaphor for how metaphor works in cognition.

So forms of language do persist in interesting ways – not just metaphors but also rhythms and vocabulary. Reading Mark Turner, who moved cognitive linguistics into the field of literary criticism, I saw a passage whose balance of phrases is so Ciceronian, and the opening sentence ‘There is a system to imagination’ so reminiscent of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, that it struck me as a proof of how the language of predecessors becomes an organising principle for the language, and perhaps the thought, of later writers. I don’t know whether Turner does this deliberately, but if he did he was doing imitatio in the best sixteenth-century style; Erasmus would have approved. The passage therefore seemed a case in point for my argument, and an appropriate conclusion.

I am grateful to Cerae’s anonymous reviewers, to the audience at RSA16, and to the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Monash and the Medieval and Early Modern Cohort at the University of Melbourne, for helpful comment on different aspects. The article therefore reflects the pleasures and wisdoms of scholarship and scholarly counsel.


Introducing… the social media editor

This post is the first in a series in which the academics behind Cerae will introduce themselves and their research, to give a flavour of the diverse people and interests contributing to the running of a burgeoning academic journal.

I’m Kirsty and I’m the social media editor for Cerae, so I manage this blog and our facebook and twitter pages.  I’m a PhD student at the University of Southampton in the UK, where my research focuses on motherhood, space, and building in thirteenth and fourteenth century French and English romances.  At the moment, I’m working on a chapter about birthing rooms, production of space, and female agency.  This means looking at my literary sources from some interesting perspectives, such as Doreen Massey and Henri LeFebvre’s theories of social production of space.  Also, some pretty cool images of medieval birthing rooms, with all the men on the outside unable to look in.

I’m also a mother myself, so in any given day, I can be translating Old French texts, potty training my son, getting to grips with Foucault, cooking dinners that will be instantly rejected, searching medieval databases, and reading phonics with my daughter.  It’s an interesting balance.  I study part-time, partly because I can’t afford to put my children into childcare full-time and partly because the PhD gives me the space to be around while they are little.  I have jaw-dropping respect for mothers who work or study full-time with small children, though I hope to join their ranks once I’ve completed my thesis and am looking for that elusive academic job.

I enjoy contributing to the running of Cerae, as I think that open access publishing is incredibly important in the current academic climate.  The academics that I respect the most are the ones who work towards creating an inclusive, positive, kind scholarly community, whose research is incisive and important to society and humankind.  I like to think that Cerae, as an open access journal founded and run by PhDs and ECRs, is a small part of the good in academia.

Leeds IMC 2018


Are you excited?  We’re excited!  We’ll be up bright and early on Tuesday morning for the 9am session in the Parkinson building (Nathan Bodington Chamber – fancy!).  Join our esteemed editor, Vanessa Wright, and our four speakers – Philippa Byrne, Stephanie Hathaway, Celeste Andrews, and Sean Tandy – for some fantastic insights into Memories of Empire.

Cerae at Leeds IMC 2018!

Twitter was absolutely buzzing last week with excited medievalists announcing that their panel had been accepted for the International Medieval Congress in Leeds in July 2018.  I have already triple booked myself in some time slots with all the fantastic papers and panels that friends and colleagues have been tweeting.  And now we are excited to announce that Cerae has it’s very own panel, too!  Join us bright and early on the Tuesday morning for four fantastic papers on Memory and Empire, all specifically chosen to complement and enhance Volume 5’s thematic strand Representations and Recollections of Empire.  We’re so in sync, Cerae and the IMC – memory-recollections, recollections-memory.

Cerae’s panel discusses the ways in which individuals or collectives used, or were influenced by, recollections and remnants of the Roman Empire.  Medieval ideas about education and civic duty were heavily influenced by Roman authors, for example, while Roman ruins were continuously used in Medieval buildings. Medieval theologians constantly grappled with the legacy of their ancient pagan forebears, while poets sought to establish authority and prestige by placing themselves in the classical tradition through emulation and imitation. In Medieval memories and imaginations, the Roman Empire served as not only a past point of reference, but as an aspirational destination.

We have four diverse but beautifully complementary papers.  Philippa Byrne’s paper will focus on rhetoric and political thought in Sallust, while Stephanie Hathaway explores magic and pagan thought in the French Reine Sebile texts.  Celeste Andrews will treat us to a paper on the remembrance of Rome in medieval Welsh texts.  Sean Tandy will close the panel with a paper on authorship and authority in mis-attributed late antique texts.

In all our excitement, we’ve decided also to extend the deadline for thematic submissions for Volume 5.  If this panel has got you all fired up about Representations and Recollections of Empire, you now have until the end of December to send us a submission.

Everything you ever wanted to know about representations and recollections of empire

But we haven’t published it yet!  That’s where you come in.  The deadline is tomorrow, but we know that you’ve been working on your paper and are just waiting until the very last minute to press send – and please do!  We really want to read it, and publish it, and share it with the world.  Details can be found here: Call for papers!

Cerae is a peer-reviewed, open access academic journal, based in Australia but with committee members and contributors throughout the world (I, personally, live in Southampton, UK, which is currently 3 degrees celsius and feels about as far from the balmy beaches of Australia as possible).  We are volunteers, but work with the professionalism and rigour that you would expect from a top flight academic journal.  We are committed to sharing high quality research in all medieval and early modern subject areas, and strongly believe in the power of open access publishing and digital humanities to do that.  The medieval and early modern online community is strong (twitter is my daily saviour!), which some might find ironic, given that we study the past, but it is actually incredibly apt, as those periods were so innovative in their thinking and methods of sharing knowledge.  Let’s carry on the tradition!

Volume 3 Winners

We are delighted to announce the winners of the essay competitions for Volume 3 of Cerae.

Lisa Tagliaferri won the prize for Best Themed Essay, with the theme of the issue being ‘Words, Signs, and Feelings’.  Tagliaferri’s article, ”A Gentlewoman of the Courte’: Introducing and Translating the Court Lady’, explores the pro-feminist agenda, or lack of such, of Baldassarre Castiglione’s Book of the Courtier and its subsequent English translation by Thomas Hoby.  Tagliaferri argues that the book was presented as an appeasement to ladies within the court, but is actually a behavioural manual designed to retain masculine authority.

Matthew Firth won the prize for Best Essay Related to the History of Emotions, with his article Allegories of Sight: Blinding and Power in Late Anglo-Saxon England.  Firth’s essay details the use of blinding as a punitive punishment in Anglo-Saxon England, from an initial reluctance to employ such a debilitating disability to a recognition of its effectiveness in curtailing the power of one’s enemies.  Anglo-Saxon culture believed that sight was inherent to power, argues Firth, making the decision to blind a person particularly complex.

Both essays, and the rest of volume 3, are available on Cerae‘s website.  The deadline for themed submissions for volume 5 is 30th November, but non-themed essays are welcomed throughout the year.  The theme for volume 5 is Representations and Recollections of Empire.

Volume 5: Call for Papers – ‘Representations and Recollections of Empire’


‘Representations and
Recollections of Empire’

Cerae invites essay submissions on the theme of ‘Representations and Recollections of
Empire’. In its broadest sense, empire as a term is used to describe a state or cluster of
lands and states ruled by a monarch or emperor. With its implications of wide and far
reaching dominion, empire as a concept also lends itself to a broad range of subject
areas that may consider a number of cultural groups and historical periods, concepts of
power and dominance, influence and control. Topics may include but are not limited to:

• representations of cultural legacy and achievement in claims to power
• studies in the visual, literary and material culture of empire
• the birth of Renaissance humanism with its focus on classical notions of civic duty
• religious appropriations of the imperial claim to political supremacy
• medieval romance and epic as genres innovating on classical styles and themes
• the imperialist legacy in early colonial propaganda.
As an interdisciplinary journal, Ceræ encourages submissions across the fields of art
history, literature, politics, intellectual history, social studies and beyond. Articles should
be approximately 5000-7000 words. Further details regarding submission and author
guidelines including the journal style sheet can be found online at:

Ceræ is delighted to offer two prizes each for Volume 5. The first prize, of $200 (AUD), will be awarded to the best article submitted by a graduate student, an is sponsored by the University of Western Australia Graduate Research School. This award may be given to either a themed or non-themed submission. The second prize, also of $200 (AUD), will be awarded to the best essay on the theme of ‘Representations and Recollections of Empire’ by a graduate student or early-career researcher.

Non-themed articles are welcome at any point in the year.