By Mary Carruthers
Speculum, Vol.81:4 (2006)
Introduction: This essay offers a provisional charting of an aesthetic term so familiar from medieval writing of all sorts, in Latin and all vernaculars, that most scholars have tended to overlook it as self-evident. That term is “sweetness.” No word is used more often in the Middle Ages to make a positive judgment about the effects of works of art. Indeed one can seem close to drowning in vats of glucose when one reads late-medieval aesthetic encomia of (for example) Chaucer’s sugared eloquence and honey-sweet words. As a term of value, “sweetness” seems to have lost any definite meaning at all in such judgments. To try to recover some of the complexity of the concept, I’m going to take something of a Cook’s Tour through it—you might think of what follows as a very discursive, lengthy lexical entry in a dictionary of medieval aesthetic terms.