Call for Papers
Medieval Association of the Pacific Conference
University of San Diego, California
March 21-23, 2013
Sponsored by MEARCSTAPA
Session Title: Heroes and Monsters
What is the relationship between the hero and the monster? How is the hero transformed by his/her encounter with the monstrous? What is the hero without the monster (and vice versa)? In an attempt to understand this association, our session invites papers on the relationship(s) between heroes and the monsters they defeat (or by whom they are defeated). We welcome papers addressing heroes and monsters in all of their various formats (heroes can include knights, saints, or those “just plain clever”; while monsters can be dragons, demons, giants, etc), and which choose to play figuratively upon the concept of defeat (e.g. the giant Galehaut’s “defeat” and death via lovesickness at the “hands” of Lancelot). Of particular interest will be those papers that focus upon the way in which the hero and/or monster is physically/mentally/spiritually changed through this encounter, or those works in which the hero is or becomes a monster (e.g. early versions of St. Christopher’s Life which feature him as a cynocephalus; the eponymous hero from Marie de France’s Bisclavret).
Please send a title, an abstract (approx. 350 words), and your complete contact information (Name, e-mail, telephone, affiliation, status, title) to Michael Heyes <Michael.E.Heyes@rice.edu> or Asa Simon Mittman <firstname.lastname@example.org> by September 28. Please note that all abstract submissions will be posted on our blog:http://mearcstapa.org/wp/
Monstrous Vikings and the Slippage of Heroic Identity in The Battle of Maldon
The Battle of Maldon takes what might have been just another English defeat at the hands of Viking invaders and elevates the deaths of Lord Byrhtnoð and his Anglo-Saxon army into a transformative intersection of selfhood and otherness. Maldon is a text that demonstrates awareness of historical narratives and anxieties of cultural erasure resulting from the resurgence in Viking invasions of the period. Closer exploration of the text reveals significant revision of the identities of the Anglo-Saxon heroes through their encounter with the monstrous Vikings, or “slaughter-wolves.” This paper will focus on the fluid mode of contextual self-representation in response to the violent clash with the Vikings, who operate as a monstrous other. The polyphony of voices by Byrhtnoð, his retainers, and the Viking forces disproves the existence of one authoritative discourse. I suggest that this demands an expansion of English identity as a dynamic, communal experience in order to manage an ambiguous threat. Accordingly, the paper will conclude with the assertion that the heroes cannot subscribe to one dominant narrative, but rather must accommodate many narratives to respond to the shifting boundaries of selfhood. Maldon asserts interpretive multiplicity in order to reshape the identity of its characters. More broadly, it asserts Anglo-Saxon identity as the complex response of an invaded culture in crisis transformed by its clash with the monstrous Vikings. The experience of defeat necessitates strategies for reconstruction through the power of representation and the authoring of a collective memory that rewrites Anglo-Saxon identity for the future.
Heroic spectacle and monstrous invisibility in Beowulf, Andreas, and Elene
Grendel, arguably the most famous of the Old English monsters, famously attacks Hrothgar’s hall at night (‘on wanre niht’; ‘ær þon dæg cwome’), under the clouds (‘under wolcnum’), and under the cover of darkness (‘under misthleoþum’). He moves about stealthily and his whereabouts are only vaguely known. He and his mother inhabit ‘a secret land’ (‘dygel lond’), yet the Danes are aware of their existence. Similarly, the dragon, who waits for nighttime before avenging the invasion of his barrow, has been a lurking presence in the land of the Geats from the time he first settled on the gold, three hundred years earlier. Monsters, it seems, escape localization. By contrast, heroes such as Beowulf exist in the public sphere: they act openly, their social identity is expressed by their armours and weapons, gleaming ornaments which both protect and manifest who they are. Heroic action is a spectacle; furthermore, it is the spectacle of a spectacle, in which we listen to those who hear and see the hero.
In this paper, I would like to explore this contrast between the visibility of heroes and the invisibility of monsters. Looking at poems such as Beouwlf, Andreas, and Elene, I will focus on scenes depicting the arrival of a (monstrous) outsider, and more particularly on how this outsider occupies space. Who is, and who is not, conspicuously in sight? How does this visibility correlate with the threat the outsider poses? How do heroes and monsters negotiate the social interactions inherent in sharing space? To what extent are categories such as ‘monsters’ and ‘heroes’ in fact predicated on display and visibility?
Symbolic Bodies: Monstrosity and Heroism in Beowulf and Judith
In the past decade, many critics, such as Dana M. Oswald, Renee Rebecca Trilling, and M. Wendy Hennequin, have examined the body in Beowulf, generally focusing on questions of monstrosity in relation to the ambiguous physical descriptions of Grendel’s mother and the even less concrete physical descriptions of Grendel. Much of the debate centers on deciphering whether or not the Grendel-kin are in fact physically monsters or merely human-like beings that possess monstrous qualities, leading to larger questions about what monstrosity actually is in Old English literature. In line with this conversation, I consider how bodily representations relate to monstrosity. However, I depart from the current focus that reads the body in a literal manner, considering, rather, how the body acts as a symbolic representation of community in Beowulf and the Old English Judith. Consequently, I propose that monstrosity is manifest when individual pursuits put the larger community at risk.
I argue that a monster is made when an individual breaks communal bonds, which is reflected in the treatment of the physical body. In these texts, the circulation and exchange of bodies strengthen kinship and community bonds, while the stagnant, uncirculated body reflects the fragmentation and destruction of community. Furthermore, particular body parts represent different positions and purposes in the social hierarchy, with arms and hands symbolizing an individual person of less prominence and heads representing community and power. Thus, I propose that the destruction of the body mirrors the destruction of the socio-political order, as the ruination of the ‘communal’ head has far greater consequences in Old English poetry than the ruination of ‘individual’ hands, ultimately demonstrating that communal identity trumps individual identity in Anglo-Saxon literature.
Therefore, in these texts the individual hero does not exist because individualism is associated with monstrosity. Through the bodily depictions of monsters and humans alike, it is evident that the hero is only significant as a communal representation. In both cases, the physical body functions as a microcosmic representative of the larger socio-political order, revealing the exalted status of the community over the individual in Old English poetry and demonstrating that monstrosity is not a physical trait but a social one.
“The Monsters and Beowulf: How Vision Decayed the Hero”
This essay explores the nuanced understanding of vision in medieval philosophy and applies those theories to Beowulf. Modern theories of vision, such as Lacan’s gaze, demonstrate the power of vision to objectify the person/thing being seen. However, modern science explains that the act of seeing is actually passive. The eye receives light refracted off objects and sends the response to the brain; the eye does not reach out to the object itself in order to make an identification. In contrast, medieval theories, including the extromission theory, believed in an active eye, one that extended a visual ray out to an object. The eye’s ability to touch its object presents the possibility for vision to manipulate its object. Like a hand, rays can be emitted from the eye to reach out and touch the object, apprehending knowledge and objectifying the item in sight. Moreover, the act of sight is imbued with power beyond the literal ability to touch. Senses such as memory, imagination, common sense and estimation can be created by an interaction with vision. For Beowulf, vision allows him the sense of sight and the abstract senses of knowledge and identity, that is, when he is able to see. This essay focuses especially on the contact Beowulf has with his adversaries (Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the Dragon) to explain the correlation between Beowulf’s vision and the decline of his capabilities as a warrior throughout the poem. Beowulf’s vision is increasingly obscured while in battle, thus leaving him vulnerable to objectification. Ultimately, it is interaction with these monsters which alters him physically and leads to his failure as a hero. Additionally, this essay also includes original translations of Beowulf in Old English as well as detailed descriptions of Beowulf’s literal and figurative battles with the monsters. These translations reveal the intricacies of the language used in the original text and the ways in which they favor an aggressive and tangible medieval approach to the act of vision.
“In the Belly of the Beast”
While Margaret of Antioch accomplishes many heroic feats in her Life – including the subjugation of a demon and resisting extreme forms of torture – the heroic act for which she is best know is the slaying of the dragon that appears in her prison cell. Although the scene is relatively short, its word count belies its importance to the story. With respect to her adherents, Margaret’s most famous offering (safe birth) is intimately related to her bursting from the dragon, while artistic renderings of the scene are some of the most frequent depictions of Margaret. The scene also attracted considerable attention from a subset of Margaret’s hagiographers, such as Jacobus de Voragine and the author of the South English Legendary, who tend to dismiss the dragon swallowing Margaret as “apocryphal.” Scholars have primarily argued that such authors deny Margaret’s physical contact with the dragon due to the degree of corporeality such contact would require for the demonic figure. Counter to this claim, I will argue that the Margaret tradition is instead drawing upon the older life of St. Anthony, creating a parallel between Margaret’s encounter with the dragon and Anthony’s struggle with demonically induced lust. As such, medieval readers would have viewed the draconic encounter as distinctly sexual: by defeating the dragon, Margaret is transformed from the fearful young girl who is overcome by the “fear of death” into a heroic virgin martyr “whose name is blessed through the ages.” Paradoxically, it is Margaret’s close encounter with the overly sexualized dragon that secures her transformation into a holy virgin. I am primarily interested in the way in which comparing Margaret’s Life to Antony’s may help us understand the greater Margaret tradition, particularly the aforementioned authors’ rejections of the draconic encounter and the way in which this crucial scene was understood by Margaret’s adherents.