As proposed to the Selection Committee:
Session 1: Unorthodox Beings I: We Are Our Monstrous Others
“nun weiz ich nit warumb ich her solte:” Observations on the role of giants in Orendel
The following paper is an attempt to illuminate characters, such as the giants Mentwin, Liberian, and Pelian and give their behavior an additional meaning within the Middle High German epic Orendel. The author of Orendel intended to describe the fate of Christ’s coat. The hero, or catalyst in this epic, functions as the instrument to bring the coat to its intended resting place, but in doing so, defeats the forces of unbelievers, who threaten the holiest City in Christendom. The monsters that Orendel encounters function on two levels. Their otherness is supernatural, but foremost they are heathen and represent in their largeness and fierceness heathendom itself.
The fascination with the Orient is a reflection of the fascination with the “other”. The self-identity of European crusaders is based on their being different from their non-European opponents; this gives them a sense of unity, of belonging to a category that is understood, an ordered binary existence that differentiates Good from Evil. The superiority of the crusader’s identity effectively “others” his heathen enemy, he designates the space that is familiar by categorizing the space outside and the liminal beings that inhabit it.
In an epic such as Orendel the threat to the ordered courtly existence are heathens, who descend upon Jerusalem, in which Queen Bride and Orendel represent the order ordained by God and upheld by courtly society. In order to emphasize the threat of the “Other” at the gates of ordered space, the successive armies are led by giants, who symbolize in their prowess the essence of the heathen world. The giant is, at the same time, the monster from the Beyond and through his body, as symbol, we can see the monstrous differences in religion and cultures. His body has become the battleground upon which Christian ideology builds its fantasies of the Oriental world.
University of Toronto, Canada
My paper is titled ‘Vocabulary and the Minds of the Monsters in “Beowulf”‘. I look at the ‘Beowulf’ poet’s characterisation of Grendel, Grendel’s’ mother, and the Dragon through the words – usually the verbs and adjectives – which describe their thoughts, states of mind, intentions, etc. Investigations into the nature of the monsters in ‘Beowulf’ has traditionally centered around nominal epithets, e.g. ‘thyrs’, ‘feond’, ‘theodscatha’, ‘merewif’, ‘hellerune’, and ‘draca’. This line of study leads to a simplistic understanding of the monsters in that it bypasses the carefully-constructed psychological interiority of the monsters, particularly that of Grendel. Indeed, that critics of the poem perennially return to the issue of Grendel’s ‘intermittent humanity’, of his ‘human-ness’ , is largely the result of the extent to which the poet depicts these monsters from the inside out, fashioning their personae by characterising them psychologically rather than physically. The noted lack of physical descriptions of the monsters in the poem goes hand-in-hand with the poet’s strategy, as does their inability – or refusal – to communicate through speech. I propose that it is the poet’s vivid depiction of the minds and psychologies of these monsters that make them such horrifically compelling, yet uncomfortably human-like, antagonists. To facilitate this line of study I have composed a complete list of the words in ‘Beowulf’ used to describe the minds of the three principal monsters.
Monstrosity and Disability in the Middle Ages
The medieval audience often portrayed disability as monstrous. People
with physical disabilities were naturally portrayed as ‘other’ since
they embodied difference in their own bodies and in their interactions
with the able-bodied majority. They were amalgamated with the symbolic
monstrous because, like monsters, they embody and represent difference.
They challenge the concept of normalcy and defy normal category
concepts, which causes them to be stigmatised and associated with
monstrosity. They provide a challenge of how to fit them into
established social categories. In Medieval narratives, monstrosity and
disability were examined in relation to morality, and both were often
inflicted and removed by religious authorities.
Session 2. Unorthodox Beings II: Inhabiting Limnal Moments and Spaces
Justin T. Noetzel
Department of English, Saint Louis University
“The door immediately gave way”: Heroes, Monsters, and the “Contested Doorway” in Beowulf and Medieval Northern Literature
The twentieth century featured lively scholarly debate by medievalists on the similarities between Beowulf and other literature of the medieval northern world, including the Norse “Hrolfs Saga Kraki” and the Icelandic “Grettis Saga.” My paper enters this field of research and focuses on the central dichotomy of the hero and the monster in Beowulf. The central and mythic heart of stories like Beowulf and “Grettis Saga” is the human need to defend itself against the harsh natural world. The monsters in these stories represent chaos and the unorthodox wild lashing out at its human occupants, and man must find a hero in order to defeat nature and ensure his survival. Such a notion has been suggested by recent scholars, but I will add new insight with a detailed examination of each element of the hero-monster fight, and I will also account for characters and stories that have not yet received enough scholarly attention, such as the Icelandic “Gull-Thoris Saga.” This paper’s most important innovation in this fertile area of scholarship is an intense focus on the role of the doorway and threshold in the hero-monster dichotomy. Doors and buildings are often assaulted and destroyed in Anglo-Saxon and Norse literature, and this violence occurs because the heroes want to fight inside while the monsters want to fight outside or flee the battle entirely. Although each combatant has the greater advantage in their respective realm, total victory arrives only after the hero defeats the monster in the wild, away from the protection and security of human structures. I will therefore examine the interior and exterior worlds in Beowulf and other medieval literature to better understand the mythic and elemental importance of the doorway in the early medieval world of northwest Europe.
Torture and Orthodoxy in Late Medieval Hagiography
Medieval torture is most commonly associated with judicial proceedings against heretics during the period of inquisitorial courts, specifically the Albigensian Crusade in the thirteenth century and onward, including the inception of the notorious Spanish inquisition of 1470. Inquisitorial torture has been indelibly imbedded in the minds of modern audiences through popular culture that portrays torture as an indispensable part of medieval judicial procedure, characterized by the depiction of such figures as Bernard Gui, presented to the twentieth century as the evil inquisitor of The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco, with his toys of torture that he employs with sadistic delight masked by righteous authority. The prevalence of torture in medieval religious literature largely coincides with the reintroduction of Roman law into European jurisprudence in the thirteenth century, but it exists in the earliest extant examples of medieval hagiography. Torture is a common motif in religious literature, in part because of its renewed place in legal procedure, but also because torture serves a didactic and instructive purpose in these texts, elevating the sanctity of the martyr and demonizing the brutal and savage pagan judges who persecute them. In this way, hagiography, specifically the vitae of the fifteenth-century Gilte Legende, emphasizes the brutality of the “other” as a means of further enhancing the corporeal sacrifice of the saint. However, the form and frequency of torture in these texts may have also provided models of resistance and defiance to later heretical sects who saw themselves and their suffering at the hands of Church authorities in the stories of early Christen saints. While torture was historically employed against heretics to extract a confession and a recantation of heresy, in hagiography the saints resist torture and do not recant their belief, urging defiance in the face of torture, unintentionally providing a model for heretics to resist torture at the hands of inquisitors and reject Church authority. Torture in religious narratives becomes a double-edged sword as the Church waged its war against heresy and violated its own principles regulating the use of torture in ecclesiastical court proceedings, plummeting into corruption and abuse that would invariably spark further dissent and could be inverted to provide a model for heretical sects against orthodox authority.
Elizabeth Moore Hunt
“Beyond the Bestiary: An Illuminated De animalibus (MS 271) in Merton College Library”
Merton College in Oxford, England, has the oldest college library in England on record; the first mention of it dates to 1274. Like many medieval college libraries, the collection contains numerous texts by Aristotle. Few, however, are illuminated with initials to divide books or chapters. A manuscript copy of De animalibus, Merton College MS 271, is unique because the divisions are decorated with images along the borders of the text to accompany the illustrated initials. Overall, around twenty scenes illustrate animals and humans copulating, and around ten compositions include the body parts of diverse animals.
It is often understood in medieval art that the margins are the physical space where monsters, disorder, and unreason reign. Yet the margins also function as the space where commentators write their gloss on the text, and often images work in a similar way to echo particular themes in the text. The unusual imagery of Merton MS 271 provides a unique opportunity to enquire about the reception of Aristotle’s scientific approach to nature in thirteenth-century Oxford.