Introduction: Encountering Consolation

  • Catherine E. Léglu
  • Stephen J. Milner
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


What is consolation? Is it the action of an individual offering solace to another? Is consolation a moment of empathy, or an expression of sympathy? Do we console someone in person in silence, through gesture, or through speeches? Or do we console them from a distance by sending words or things: letters, poems, or gifts? Do we imagine that these things are effective? Or can consolation only be experienced and not given? For there is a power relation at stake as I explore the hierarchies of consoler and consoled. If I offer comfort to my friend, my role must be established in advance, my words borrowed from a common fund of expressions. I may invoke the ineffability of the other’s emotions: “I know my words cannot express your pain...” But if mere words can say nothing that counts, then why do we associate consolation with the sounds we make or symbolize, and why do we think a song can console, or a poem? I send my friend a picture in the hope that it may express whatever it is words cannot say. The picture has its own rhetoric, but I cannot control my friend’s reading of it. So, would my wordless presence be more consolatory than my verbose absence? After all, does consolation bring individuals together, or does it remind them that they are apart and do not know each other at all, merely bridging the gap through a fantasy of union and common experience?


Fifteenth Century Common Fund Loeb Classical Library Medieval Literature Summum Bonum 
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© Catherine E. Léglu and Stephen J. Milner 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Catherine E. Léglu
  • Stephen J. Milner

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