This study outlines the history and anatomy of the European apology tradition from the sixth century BCE to 1500 for the first time. The study examines the vernacular and Latin tales, lyrics, epics, and prose compositions of Arabic, English, French, German, Greek, Icelandic, Italian, Spanish, and Welsh authors. Three different strands of the apology tradition can be proposed. The first and most pervasive strand features apologies to pagan deities and-later-to God. The second most important strand contains literary apologies made to an earthly audience, usually of women. A third strand occurs more rarely and contains apologies for varying literary offenses that are directed to a more general audience.
The medieval theory of language privileges an imitation of the Christian master narrative and a hierarchical medieval view of authorship. These notions express a medieval philosophical concern about language and its role, and therefore the role of the author, in cosmic history. Despite the fact that women apologize for different purposes and reasons, their examples illustrate, on yet another level, the antifeminist subtext inherent in the entire apology tradition. Overall, the apology tradition characterized by interauctoriality, intertextuality, and intratextuality, enables self-critical authors to refer not only backward but also-primarily-forward, making the medieval apology a progressive strategy that engenders new literature.
This study would be relevant to all medievalists, especially those interested in literature and the history of ideas.