Framing, Parataxis, and the Poetics of Exemplarity in Petrus Alfonsi’s Disciplina Clericalis

in Medieval Encounters
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Critics have seen the structure of Petrus Alfonsi’s Disciplina clericalis (c. 1110) as either entirely haphazard or consistently framed. I will argue that its distinct structure emerges from a balance of framed and paratactic relationships. When viewed in this way, the dialogic exemplum sequence—or framed series of tales told in a conversation—becomes one of the most significant structural units in the work. Having identified that unit, I demonstrate its value for the exemplary poetics at work in Disciplina clericalis by analyzing the longest dialogic exemplum sequence in the text. Petrus uses the delicate balance between framing and parataxis to situate a sophisticated theory of exemplarity that analyzes representation and emphasizes the importance of interpreting moralized tales.

Medieval Encounters

Jewish, Christian and Muslim Culture in Confluence and Dialogue




Taylor, “Wisdom Forms,” 28. Taylor argues for the broader interrelation between proverbs and exempla in “Medieval Proverb Collections: The West European Tradition,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 55 (1992), 21–22. He further notes that the semantic fields of the words designating these sententious forms overlap in both Arabic and Hebrew, the principal languages of Petrus’s pre-conversion milieu and the alleged source traditions of Disciplina clericalis.


Taylor, “Wisdom forms,” 28.


Tolan, Petrus Alfonsi and His Medieval Readers, 139–154. Tolan plausibly suggests that the preacher’s use of Disciplina clericalis radically alters its reception in the late Middle Ages (157).


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