Cover image for The Gift of Tongues: Women's Xenoglossia in the Later Middle Ages By Christine F. Cooper-Rompato

The Gift of Tongues

Women's Xenoglossia in the Later Middle Ages

Christine F. Cooper-Rompato

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232 pages
6" × 9"
2010

The Gift of Tongues

Women's Xenoglossia in the Later Middle Ages

Christine F. Cooper-Rompato

“Christine Cooper-Rompato’s fascinating book demonstrates the importance of ‘xenoglossia’ (miraculous language acquisition) for late medieval readers and writers. The Gift of Tongues raises important issues about gender, language, and religious culture. Offering both an overview of the subject and a focused study of its significance for authors such as Margery Kempe and Chaucer, this book makes valuable contributions to our understanding of late medieval religion and literary history.”

 

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Tales of xenoglossia—the instantaneous ability to read, to write, to speak, or to understand a foreign language—have long captivated audiences. Perhaps most popular in Christian religious literature, these stories celebrate the erasing of all linguistic differences and the creation of wider spiritual communities. The accounts of miraculous language acquisition that appeared in the Bible inspired similar accounts in the Middle Ages. Though medieval xenoglossic miracles have their origins in those biblical stories, the medieval narratives have more complex implications. In The Gift of Tongues, Christine Cooper-Rompato examines a wide range of sources to show that claims of miraculous language are much more important to medieval religious culture than previously recognized and are crucial to understanding late medieval English writers such as Geoffrey Chaucer and Margery Kempe.
“Christine Cooper-Rompato’s fascinating book demonstrates the importance of ‘xenoglossia’ (miraculous language acquisition) for late medieval readers and writers. The Gift of Tongues raises important issues about gender, language, and religious culture. Offering both an overview of the subject and a focused study of its significance for authors such as Margery Kempe and Chaucer, this book makes valuable contributions to our understanding of late medieval religion and literary history.”

Christine F. Cooper-Rompato is Assistant Professor of English at Utah State University.

Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction

1. Miraculous Translations: Gifts of Vernacular Tongues in Later Medieval Vitae

2. Miraculous Literacies: Medieval Women’s Miraculous Experiences of Latin

3. “An Alien to Understand Her”: Miraculous and Mundane Translation in The Book of Margery Kempe

4. Women’s Miraculous Translation in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales

Conclusion

Selected Bibliography

Index

Introduction

According to the Acts of the Apostles, on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles, and they began to speak in languages that they did not know. The Pentecost narrative is an important model for holy men and women in the later Middle Ages, many of whom were said to have experienced what is known today as xenoglossia, or the sudden, miraculous ability to speak, to understand, to read, or to write a foreign language. Medieval miracle accounts, however, describe men and women as performing their miraculous tongues in remarkably gendered ways. For example, the early fourteenth-century Latin text Actus Beati Francisci et Sociorum Eius and its Italian translation, I Fioretti di San Francesco d’Assisi, report that St. Anthony of Padua (d. 1231) was called to preach before a papal audience that included many men of different nationalities. Although he spoke his native tongue, he was miraculously understood in the diverse languages of his listeners, who reportedly asked in amazement, “Is he not a Spaniard? How then are we all hearing him in the language of the country where we were born—we Greeks and Latins, French and Germans, Slavs and English, Lombards and foreigners?” Over one century later, the English visionary text The Book of Margery Kempe records a much more modest gift of xenoglossia. After two weeks of intense prayer, the monolingual Margery, while on pilgrimage to Rome, was gifted with the ability to communicate with one German priest who did not know English.

Many today consider the gift of tongues, either xenoglossia or glossolalia (speaking in an incomprehensible language), to be a long-dormant biblical experience revived in the modern period by the Pentecostal and Charismatic churches. Scholarly studies describe the medieval occurrences of xenoglossia as sporadic and isolated at best. My book challenges this perception by arguing that xenoglossia forms a vital part of later medieval religious culture. The purpose of this book is to examine medieval accounts of xenoglossia in both the hagiographic record and later medieval English literature to discover what the accounts reveal about gendered experiences of language and translation in the Middle Ages. In this book, I first examine the prevalence of xenoglossia in medieval vitae, canonization records, and miracle accounts, with particular focus on the lives of women. I then explore how the later medieval English writers Margery Kempe and Geoffrey Chaucer adapt the hagiographic model of xenoglossia in their own texts as a way of exploring issues of writerly control and authority. Saints’ lives imagine men and women as practicing their xenoglossia quite differently from one another; women’s miraculous experiences of translation are much more limited in scope and duration than men’s, to the point that they often appear almost “mundane,” or nonmiraculous. I argue that it is this “feminine” model of xenoglossia that Kempe and Chaucer adopt and develop to help them forge their identities as writers and translators.

Modern Experiences of Xenoglossia

The term xenoglossia or xenoglossy (French xenoglossie) was first used in print in 1905 by Charles Richet, a French physiologist (and future Nobel Prize laureate), who investigated the case of a medium named Madame X. While in a trance, Madame Xsuddenly wrote long sentences in Greek, although she claimed to have never studied or learned the Greek language. Since the mid-nineteenth century, a number of Spiritualists had claimed they spoke in foreign tongues while in trances. Richet was particularly fascinated by the errors in Madame X’s Greek and concluded it was as if she had seen the letters and copied them without understanding what they signified. He eventually discovered that the sentences had come from a rare Greek-French dictionary housed in the French National Library. Richet suggested three theories to explain the event: first, fraud; second, an unconscious memory of something Madame X had seen at an earlier date; and third, a spirit intelligence working through her. Each of these theories he denied, finally, concluding that the event was “inexplicable.”

Richet’s second theory, forgotten memories that are stored subconsciously and arise later in life, had long been recognized as a possible explanation for the apparent miraculous speaking of foreign languages. A notable literary reference to this occurs in Herman Melville’s novel Moby-Dick. Reflecting on Quequeg as he lies dying, Starbuck muses to Pip how feverous men who are “all ignorance” can suddenly start speaking ancient languages. He explains, “when the mystery is probed, it turns out always that in their wholly forgotten childhood those ancient tongues had been really spoken in their hearing by some lofty scholars.” In 1900 Theodore Flourney labeled this phenomenon cryptomnesia in his study From India to the Planet Mars: A Study of a Case of Somnambulism with Glossolalia, which explores the famous case of Hélène Smith and her various earlier incarnations, as well as her “travel” to Mars where she spoke with intelligent beings in a Martian language. Flourney attributes Smith’s ability to write several words in Sanskrit to her subconscious internalization of some of the grammar of a Sanskrit book that may have been shown to her after a séance.

Paranormal explanations for xenoglossia have also continued to attract attention throughout the past century. Popular studies include Ernesto Bozzano’s 1932 Polyglot Mediumship (Xenoglossy) , which describes thirty-five cases of xenoglossia that he attributes to spiritual possession, and Frederick Herbert Wood’s This Egyptian Miracle; or the Restoration of the Lost Speech of Ancient Egypt by Supernormal Means (1939), which explores the famous “Rosemary Case” and suggests that the female subject was a reincarnation of Syrian woman named Vola who lived approximately 1400 B.C.E.; Nona herself was said to be a reincarnation of a Pharaoh’s wife. More recent studies have also attempted to link xenoglossia to reincarnation, particularly the work of the late Dr. Ian Stevenson, professor in the Department of Psychiatric Medicine at the University of Virginia’s School of Medicine. Celebrated cases described by Stevensen include T.E., an American woman who, under hypnosis, spoke in Swedish of her life as a peasant farmer named Jensen Jacoby, and Dolores Jay, an American who, also under hypnosis, began to speak in German and claimed her name was Gretchen Gottlieb. Interest in the paranormal and xenoglossia continues today; a quick search of these two terms on the Internet yields numerous sites for people to write in about their own paranormal xenoglossic experiences.

Perhaps the gift of tongues is best known today as a religious phenomenon, specifically as a spiritual practice of the Pentecostal and Charismatic churches. Whereas contemporary tongue-speakers usually give voice to language that is incomprehensible to other listeners without the gift of interpretation (glossolalia) , accounts from the very early Pentecostal movement often claimed that the recipients were speaking in human tongues. The many followers of Charles Fox Parham, who is credited with spearheading the development of Pentecostalism in America at the turn of the twentieth century, believed that their glossolalic utterances were actually human tongues. Gary B. McGee writes of those present at Parham’s Topeka, Kansas, Bethel College meetings in 1901: “Participants testified, as others did at later Pentecostal revivals (e.g., the Azusa Street revival of 1906–9), that God had given them the languages of the world, including Greek, Latin, Hebrew, French, Spanish, Italian, German, Hungarian, Norwegian, Swedish, Bulgarian, Russian, Syrian, Zulu, Swahili, Hindi, Marathi, Bengali, Tibetan, Mandarin, Japanese, Chippewa, ‘Esquimaux,’ and even sign language for the deaf.”

Parham imagined that “mission tongues” would enable his followers to evangelize throughout the world. He argued, “If Balaam’s mule could stop in the middle of the road and give the first preacher that went out for money a bawling out in Arabic . . . anyone today ought to be able to speak in any language of the world if they had horse sense enough to let God use their tongue and throat.” Missionaries in the field would soon realize, however, that the gift of tongues could not replace intensive language study. Even so, tales of xenoglossia received by missionaries continued to circulate well into the twentieth century.

With so much popular and scholarly interest focused on the Pentecostal and Charismatic experiences of tongues, earlier xenoglossic occurrences have received much less attention. Many scholars exhibit little awareness of the long tradition of xenoglossia in the Middle Ages, arguing that it ceased almost entirely after the apostolic age until it was revived in the modern age. There has been no book-length study of medieval accounts of xenoglossia to date, a gap this book hopes to remedy.

Early Experiences of Tongues

Medieval Christian manifestations of xenoglossia arise from the New Testament’s depiction of the gift of tongues. Over thirty references to tongues appear in Acts and 1 Corinthians. Acts 2 offers the most detailed description of the gift. Fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles in Jerusalem, and they began to speak in languages that they previously did not know:

4. All they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

5. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven.

6. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in his own language.

7. And they were amazed and wondered, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?”

8. And how is it that we hear, each of us in our own native language?

Acts also records that years later, the Holy Spirit descended on a group of Jews and gentiles who were gathered to hear Peter preaching in the house of the Roman centurion Cornelius; the participants began to speak in tongues (Acts 10:44–46). Furthermore, in Ephesus, the Holy Spirit descended on twelve disciples when Paul laid hands on them, and “they spoke with tongues and prophesied” (Acts 19:1–7).

The gift of tongues finds a more extended discussion in 1 Corinthians, which was written by Paul in part to correct the errors and abuses that had arisen in the Church at Corinth. Paul stresses the importance of all the charismata, or gifts, of the Holy Spirit and warns the congregation that its focus on the gift of tongues creates disunity within the church. According to Stanley Burgess, Paul advises not that the Corinthian Church should cease speaking tongues completely but that their experience should be governed by the following guidelines: first, “recognition of the diversity of charismata graciously given by the triune God”; second, “the supremacy of love, without which no charisma counts,” and third, “the priority of congregational edification over personal benefit.” Paul emphasizes that the gift of tongues must be accompanied by the gift of interpretation, so that the entire congregation may come together and grow from the experience.

Whether these passages in the New Testament indicate comprehensible or incomprehensible language has inspired great scholarly debate. To summarize briefly, it is generally assumed that the gift described in Acts concerning the Day of Pentecost refers to recognizable human tongues, or xenoglossia. The experiences in 1 Corinthians, however, are usually understood to indicate the speaking of unintelligible or incomprehensible tongues (glossolalia), although there is much disagreement over this point. Some have argued that because Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians of tongues needing interpretation, this would seem to indicate that what Paul was describing was not a known human language; others insist that prophecy always needs interpretation, regardless of the language it is voiced in.

Many of the early Christian theologians, however, seem to have believed that the descriptions of tongues in both Acts and Corinthians referred to human language, although scholars do debate this. The Church Fathers also appear to agree that the gift aided the growth of the early church by enabling the apostles and disciples to preach to and to convert those who spoke other languages. For example, in his Homily 35 on 1st Corinthians, John Chrysostom asserts, “Wherefore then did the Apostles receive it [the gift] before the rest? Because they were to go abroad every where.” Several early theologians noted that the gift of tongues served an important part of the missionary movement but that it was no longer necessary. St. Augustine writes in his Homily 6 on the First Epistle of John that the tongues in Acts “were signs adapted to the time. For there behooved to be that betokening of the Holy Spirit in all tongues, to shew [sic] that the Gospel of God was to run through all tongues over the whole earth. That thing was done for a betokening, and it passed away.” Similarly, Chrysostom suggests that gifts of tongues “used to occur but now no longer take place.” Although it is not part of my current project to explore these very early attitudes toward tongues, it is important to recognize that statements like these have been taken as evidence that experiences of glossolalia and xenoglossia in the late antique period had waned, not to be revived until the modern period.

Medieval Experiences of Xenoglossia

The past fifty years have witnessed a tremendous number of studies published on glossolalia. Many of these studies discuss xenoglossia as a subcategory of glossolalia or simply do not distinguish between the two and treat them as similar phenomena. The gift of tongues has been approached from a variety of perspectives and fields, including anthropology, sociology, psychology, and linguistics. Tongue-speaking is now recognized to comprise many kinds of linguistic experiences practiced by a variety of cultures.

Unfortunately, most of the historical studies on speaking in tongues in the Christian tradition either gloss over or completely ignore medieval occurrences, mentioning that tongues were claimed by some but that it was not a widespread phenomenon. In fact, in his essay “The Significance of Glossolalia in the History of Christianity,” the historian E. Glenn Hinson has characterized this early period (250 C.E. and onward) to 1650 C.E. as a “Long Drought” of tongues. This perception is repeated in a number of other studies; George H. Williams and Edith Waldvogel’s essay, “A History of Speaking in Tongues and Related Gifts,” for example, devotes less than three pages to medieval tongues before turning to early modern Protestant examples. These are typical of the many studies that quickly pass over the Middle Ages as if they had little of importance to offer.

When studies do mention medieval xenoglossia, George B. Cutten’s important 1927 work, Speaking with Tongues: Historically and Psychologically Considered, is frequently cited. Cutten, a minister and president of Colgate University, devoted almost an entire chapter to the Middle Ages and mentioned a number of holy men and women who received linguistic gifts. Cutten associated speaking in tongues with hysteria and women, and his elitism is quite evident when he writes that tongues were experienced by Christians who were “ignorant” and of a lower economic class. Fifty years later Stanley Burgess’s short essay, “Medieval Examples of Charismatic Piety in the Roman Catholic Church,” heavily criticized Cutten’s work for its blatant inaccuracies and vague, undocumented references, which Cutten had pulled from an earlier study by Joseph van Görres. Burgess corrects several of Cutten’s errors and cites the following male religious who received the gift of tongues: SS. Pachomius, Dominic, Vincent Ferrer, Anthony of Padua, Loius Bertrand, Francis Xavier, Stephen, and the blessed Angelo Clareno. Regarding religious women who receive the gift of tongues, his findings are limited to St. Clare of Montefalco, St. Colette, Blessed Hildegard of Bingen, and the sixteenth-century Spanish nun, Joan of the Cross. In this work and others, Burgess calls for more extensive research on the medieval primary documents describing glossolalia and xenoglossia, although his interest lies in determining which were legitimate experiences and which can be attributed to “stylized encomium.” My interest lies not so much in determining whether the events “really happened” (although I do suggest that some may reflect lived experience) but rather in examining how the accounts craft the presentation of the miraculous event. In essence, it is just this encomium, or praise, that most interests this project.

I have located a number of examples of medieval xenoglossic experiences not included in the studies of either Cutten or Burgess, which leads me to argue that reports of this miracle were more widespread and indeed more important to medieval piety, in particular women’s piety, than previously recognized. To Burgess’s list of xenoglossic holy men must be added a number of male saints, including SS. Christopher, Basil the Great, Ephrem, Patiens, Norbert, Andreas Stultus (the Fool for Christ), Francis of Assisi, Teilo, Padarn, David, and Cadoc. To his list of holy women, St. Lutgard of Aywières, St. Bridget of Sweden, and the fifteenth-century English mystic Margery Kempe must be included for their gifts of vernacular xenoglossia. When we consider the gift of Latin for holy women as a variation of xenoglossia, the list becomes much longer, including, for example, SS. Catherine of Siena, Elizabeth of Schönau, Bridget of Sweden, Umiltá of Faenza, Blessed Ida of Louvain, and Christina Mirabilis, in addition to a number of other women.

My premise in this book is that xenoglossia is much more popular in medieval hagiographical texts than previously realized. It is not an isolated or sporadic experience for the few, as has been claimed; rather, xenoglossia is intimately linked with perceptions of holiness and inspiration in the Midde Ages. This is particularly so for women, who are imagined to experience miraculous Latinity much more frequently than vernacular xenoglossia. Several scholars in the past two decades have explored how medieval women’s vitae and visionary texts rely on claims of miraculous Latinity to support holy women’s spiritual and textual authority. Notable studies include Anne Clark Bartlett and Barbara Newman on Hildegard of Bingen, Ann L. Clark on Elisabeth of Schönau, Alexandra Barratt on Lutgard of Aywières, Catherine Mooney on Umiltà of Faenza, and Carolyn Muessig on the gift of Latin song in the lives of medieval holy women from the Low Countries. Recently, Anneke Mulder-Bakker and Katrien Heene have examined how claims of miraculous Latinity function in the lives of a number of women from the later Middle Ages.

These remarkable studies offer ways of understanding women’s relationships to language, literacy, and authority, and they have greatly influenced my own work and consideration of xenoglossia. What this book contributes to this scholarship on miraculous language is twofold: first, it considers how vernacular and Latinate xenoglossia function in a variety of medieval hagiographic sources; in doing so, I demonstrate that this is a much more widespread phenomenon than previously recognized, one that it indeed central to the medieval religious experiences of many. My book therefore places cases previously considered on an individual basis in a wider context. Furthermore, my book also focuses on how the hagiographic model of xenoglossia is carried over and adapted into Middle English literature, an important literary motif that for the most part has been overlooked in scholarship.

Xenoglossia in the Medieval Hagiographic Record

The popularity of the miracle of xenoglossia during the twelfth to fifteenth centuries can be attributed to several factors. First, we must acknowledge that miracle accounts were more frequently recorded, and with much greater detail, as the Middle Ages progressed; the work of both Michael Goodich and André Vauchez attests to the developing documentation of miracle accounts in the later Middle Ages. Moreover, an increasing number of miracle “genres” reflected the apostolic model of Christ and his followers in the New Testament, including miracles featuring curing mutes and the paralyzed, exorcising demons, and even resurrecting the dead. It should not be surprising, therefore, that the description of tongues in Acts would inspire many similar accounts in later medieval saints’ lives. Certainly, the popularity of the xenoglossic miracle parallels developments in the perception of sanctity in the later Middle Ages, in particular the increased emphasis on the imitation of the life of Christ and on following the vita apostolica.

Second, it has been noted that the occurences of vernacular xenoglossia increased as orders dedicated to missionary work developed. Many of the religious who experienced the xenoglossic gift belonged to the Mendicant orders. Dominicans and Franciscans championed the apostolic model, and these friars focused their efforts on public preaching and missionary efforts, devoting themselves to ministering to urban populations with diverse linguistic backgrounds as well as to foreign evangelizing. Thus, hagiographic literature seems to privilege xenoglossic miracles because the miracles emphasize the commitment of prominent preachers to teaching and preaching to diverse populations.

Third, it is also reasonable to assume that descriptions of the xenoglossic gift became more popular in the later Middle Ages because there occurred an “expectation of tongues”; once the miracle entered the horizon of expectation of audiences, the miracle propagated itself. The miracle also became an important proof of sanctity. By the early modern period, we see an example explaining why a holy person did not have the gift of tongues: the vita of the Franciscan St. Peter of Alcantara (d. 1562) states quite emphatically that Peter did not receive the gift because he did not need it since he preached only in Spain. To call attention to the lack of xenoglossia in the life of a popular holy preacher would seem to indicate that by this period the gift of tongues was almost expected in the vitae of famous preachers, and that if a prominent preacher perceived as blessed did not receive it, an explanation was deemed necessary.

Fourth, it must be noted that later medieval religious culture grew increasingly concerned with the power of the tongue in both extremes, the miraculous and the sinful. Indeed, the miracle increased in popularity either in tandem with or in response to the emerging emphasis on the “Sins of the Tongue” and “errant speech” in late medieval popular preaching. Edwin D. Craun has traced the development of the “Sins of the Tongue” and demonstrates that the genre gained prominence during the thirteenth century, which saw an intense focus on pastoral care. Perhaps it is not a coincidence then that the corresponding “miracles of the tongue” became so visible in mendicant vitae during this period. Moreever, as Sandy Bardsley has noted, fourteenth- and fifteenth-century art and literature is deeply interested “both with speech in general and the instruments of speech, the mouth and the tongue, in particular”; medieval hagiographic accounts of xenoglossia demonstrate remarkable extremes in their desire to explore the specific mechanics of the miracle. Whereas some accounts focus on how the miracle takes place (in the saint’s mouth or in the ears of the listener), others completely gloss over the specific instruments involved, preferring to focus on the power of the xenoglossic speech on the listeners.

Last, one of the main reasons the Latinate version of the xenoglossic gift became so important in the later Middle Ages is because of an increased amount of attention in general paid to literary and scriptural translation during this period. In response to a growing demand for religious literature in the vernacular, a number of texts were translated from Latin into the emerging vernaculars, as well as between vernaculars. Intense debate ensued over the proper translation of religious texts, in particular Scripture, and many fears were voiced that biblical and other religious texts would be mistranslated or misinterpreted by the laity. Xenoglossia alleviates these fears, for what lies behind the idea of miraculous translation is the promise of complete equivalency between languages and a desire for “pure translation” that does not mutate, manipulate, or alter the text in any way. This longing for purity in translation increased in tandem with the realization and acknowledgment that, in practice, translation necessarily shapes and rewrites.

Argument of the Book

The main question this study investigates is how the gift of xenoglossia, or miraculous translation, is imagined in later medieval literature and culture. In developing this book, I have found translation theory a useful tool for exploring how these narratives stage and describe acts of xenoglossia. Theorists, including Susan Bassnett and André Lefevere, have encouraged the study of the “idea of translation” throughout history to understand how translation has been both enacted and conceptualized. When medieval people describe translation in its ideal state, they imagine xenoglossia, a miraculous process that effortlessly erases all linguistic and cultural borders. The xenoglossic holy person becomes the locus of desire for perfect, equivalent translation, as well as the locus of anxiety about imperfect, asymmetrical, problematic translation (the lived experience of translation). This becomes particularly evident when examining women’s experiences of xenoglossia, as a number of questions are exposed concerning women’s “appropriate” language acquisition, usage, and access to translation, questions that hide behind xenoglossia’s “illusory effect of transparency,” the assertion that languages and texts (oral or written) are perfectly translatable and leave no record or mark of their transferal.

This book, therefore, discovers what kind of translators medieval xenoglossic women are imagined to be. More specifically, it looks closely at both the hagiographic record and late medieval English writings to explore both what the gift “does” (the access to language afforded the xenoglossic person), and how the gift is “used” (the practice and performance of that language). To explore these questions, the book is divided into two parts. Chapter 1 examines the more familiar model of xenoglossia as a vernacular gift granted to facilitate conversion and strengthening of the faith. Whereas men receive vernacular xenoglossia for the sake of wide-scale preaching efforts, women receive a gift that is much more narrow in scope, for the purpose of semiprivate spiritual conversation and counseling. Chapter 2 explores an important variant of xenoglossia for women, gifts of Latinity. I argue that the women receive strikingly limited gifts of the Latin language, which may reflect either the “lived experience” of women’s nontraditionally acquired literacy or a desire on the hagiographers’ part to curtail women’s access, practice, and performance of Latinity. By the end of the Middle Ages, however, the hagiographic record has developed to include several accounts of xenoglossia affording actual literate practices for women. The vitae and canonization process of St. Bridget of Sweden claim that she was miraculously tutored in Latin by the Virgin Mary and St. Anne so that Bridget could oversee the translation of her Revelations from Swedish into Latin. Xenoglossia, therefore, becomes a metaphor for authorizing textual practices.

The second half of the book turns to discovering how the hagiographic tropes of xenoglossia are carried over into late medieval literature. The third and fourth chapters discuss how the English writers Margery Kempe and Geoffrey Chaucer develop the model of xenoglossia in their texts as a way to explore their own identities as writers. For the visionary Kempe, whose Book is closely modeled on hagiographic sources, miraculous and mundane (or everyday, nonmiraculous) translation become two of the most important means Margery has for ensuring access to religious and devotional practices. The Book uses successful acts of miraculous and mundane translation as a way both to attempt to control Margery’s reception as a holy woman and to support Kempe’s own claims of writerly authority. The final chapter turns to a male literary author’s creating xenoglossic female characters and using them as metaphors for the writing process. In the Canterbury Tales, Chaucer explores the intersections between mundane and miraculous translation in the Prioress’s Prologue and Tale, the Man of Law’s Tale, and the Squire’s Tale. Imagining xenoglossic women in several related genres (the vita, romance, chronicle history, and miracle of the Virgin) allows Chaucer to examine the ways in which claims of miraculous translation are used to legitimate the role of the translator.

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