CfP: Proverbia Septentrionalia. The Uses of the Proverb in the Medieval Cultures of Northern Europe

St. Thomas More College

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada

11 – 13 November, 2011

At this conference we will examine the uses of the proverb in the medieval cultures of northern Europe, in particular how such phrases are employed in literature and in non-fictional writings.  The discipline of paroemiology, or the study of proverbs, recognizes their origins as often preceding the literate stage of societies.  In fact, they must have made up a significant element in that formulaic framework by which knowledge and wisdom were fixed and transmitted generationally in the communities of pre-literate humanity.  The still unmapped syntactic structure of the paroemial form lent itself both to mnemonic efficiency and to rhetorical persuasion—even today, there are cultures in Africa where litigation and governmental advice are expressed proverbially, and the conduct of law in our own societies still employs proverbial material occasionally, just as do our politicians.

Aristotle was of the view that proverbs constituted the remains of man’s early philosophy which survived through their brevity and cleverness, and whole books of sacred texts are devoted to these formulaic dictums upon just and wise behaviour.  In this context, the entertainment of The Fables of Aesop is surely subordinate to their grounding in the wisdom often encapsulated at their close with a sentence of proverbial nature.  The fact of proverbs arising from the oral heritage of a culture has led some to opine, with Francis Bacon, that “The genius, wit and spirit of a nation are discovered in its proverbs,” but whether such pursuits are productive is doubtful.  Of greater use to the discipline is the acknowledgement that proverb texts have, and indeed may be defined by, their own generative structure, a structure to which Archer Taylor referred, if unconsciously, when he observed, “An incommunicable quality tells us this sentence is proverbial and that one is not.”

The presence of this structure in texts incorporated in poems and stories marks such passages not merely as instructive in themselves, but also as resonating with accepted communal wisdom in ways that can help us understand the works in which they occur.  Papers are welcome at this conference on any aspect of proverbial material in north European medieval literature and culture.

Submission criteria

Those interested in presenting a paper should send a proposal of up to 150 words that clearly outlines the treatment of the proposed topic and its relation to the conference theme. All submissions must include the following: name, title, affiliation, address, and email address, and a one paragraph biography including recent publications and research interests. Students should indicate their status. Only one proposal per person may be considered. Papers that contain previously published materials should be identified as such.


The deadline for submissions is 4 April, 2011. All proposals will be reviewed by the conference program committee. Notification of acceptance will be sent by 11 April, 2011.

Inquiries about the conference and proposals should be submitted electronically in an easily accessible form to either Michael Cichon: or Richard Harris:

Conference Sponsors

The conference is sponsored by St. Thomas More College, with additional support from the University of Saskatchewan’s Classical, Medieval and Renaissance Studies Program, as well as the University itself.

St. Thomas More is a Catholic liberal arts college, sponsored by the Basilian Fathers and federated with the University of Saskatchewan. St. Thomas More College is located at 1437 College Drive, Saskatoon, SK, S7N 0W6, Canada.