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Time, Space, and the Itinerary

Mapping the Siege of Jerusalem

Alyssa McLeod, Author

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Space and the City of Jerusalem

Space proves equally problematic in the Siege of Jerusalem. Cities that in actuality lie thousands of miles apart are in the poem within a day's sail away: after a storm blows his Rome-bound ship off course, for instance, a messenger travels from the Holy Lands to Bordeaux, a landlocked region in France (196):

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Jerusalem’s spiritual significance to Christendom places it close to Western Europe symbolically, if not geographically; in fact, in medieval mappa mundi (maps of the world), Jerusalem often lies at the very centre of the known world. In The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, a mid-fourteenth-century travelogue narrating the writer's far-reaching journeys to Jerusalem, Africa, and Asia, Mandeville attributes Jerusalem’s symbolic significance in Christian thought to Christ's crucifixion on Calvary, but stipulates that the Passion had to take place in a geographically central location:
For whoso wole do eny thyng for the which he wole be knowe opynli, he wole do hit crie opynli in the myddel place of a cite other of at toune, so that hit may be knowe to all parties of that cite other of that toune. So dide He that was kyng of the worlde. He wolde suffre deth at Jerusalem, that is in the middel of the worlde, so that hit myght be knowe to men of all parties of the worlde how dire He bought man that He made to His licknys for the gret love that He hadde to us. (26-30) [10]
Mandeville inverts geographic cause and symbolic effect. Is Jerusalem important because of Christ's crucifixion, or is the crucifixion widely known because of Jerusalem's central location? Or, in other words, does space govern thought, or does thought create space?

Following Henri Lefebvre's differentiation between the representation of space (city plans, maps, and designs) and representational space (a lived, imaginatively appropriated space), I suggest that the city of Jerusalem in the Siege is both: a blueprint or outline of an imagined, idealized city on the part of the medieval West, who desired it for their own spiritual and political purposes; and a spatialized metaphor created by the narrative. The walls of the city become the lines of the poem, which simultaneously enclose its action and yet remain permeable to interpretive interference.

Given the temporal and spatial complexity of the Siege of Jerusalem, how might a digital model of the poem's spatiotemporality function? Researchers in the digital humanities have been grappling with issues related to the graphical representation of narrative time and space for some time now. I suggest, however, that the key to visualizing medieval narrative lies in a relatively neglected form of travel narrative: the itinerary.
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