1. Jenna Stook, Mount Royal University and the University of Calgary
Monstrous Unions and Hideous Progeny: A Consideration of the Lump Child in the Auchinleck King of Tars
The Middle English romance The King of Tars features both the motif of the monstrous birth and that of miraculous conversion. In the romance, the unnamed Christian princess marries the Saracen Sultan of Damascus, and later gives birth to a child. The women attending the birth are described as being “wel sori” for the child is decidedly monstrous: it is a formless lump of flesh without human physiology and without “liif.” This paper will begin by unpacking the description of the child as “lifeless.” The nature of the child’s monstrosity, I will argue, lies in its lack of an animating force (a presumably Christian soul) and its indeterminacy. The child, a product of an interfaith and interracial marriage, is a hybrid figure who occupies a middle space between human and non-human, Christian and Saracen. The paper will then consider the cause of the child’s monstrosity in light of medieval Christian injunctions against intermarriage and interfaith sex. The King of Tars presents the interfaith union and the child it produces as equally monstrous because both expose classificatory boundaries as fragile and both threaten to dissolve the border between self and other. The threat posed by the lump child to boundary order is ultimately contained through his miraculous conversion: the child transforms from a monster into a well-formed boy full of life.
2. Sarah Alison Miller, Duquesne University
“Twins and Hermaphrodites in Albertus and Pseudo-Albertus”
This paper explores how medieval philosophical and medical texts represent the relationship between the procreation of multiple births, conjoined twins, and hermaphrodites. Although conjoined twins and hermaphrodites fell squarely in the category of monstrosity, late-medieval theories of human generation acknowledged twins to be a species of monster produced by a number of possible factors: an unnatural conception, an imperfect womb, a lack or excess of matter, a failed process of material division, or the influence of a constellation. Albertus Magnus’ De animalibus and Pseudo-Albertus Magnus’ De secretis mulierum grapple with the disparate embryological models inherited from ancient medicine, Arabic gynecology, and medieval astrology in an effort to come to terms with the slippage between normative and monstrous offspring. Ultimately, though tacitly, these texts reveal the troubling combinations and divisions entailed by the creation of a human being. By considering how pleasure, sexual shenanigans, female anatomy, and the cosmos itself impinge upon this process, this paper probes the teratogenic conditions at the origins of all human life.
4.Jenny Howe, Tufts University
“sum fendys son”: Demonic Births and Monstrous Mothers in Sir Gowther
The folklore motif of the “Wish Child” appears in many medieval romances and legends. Such stories, in which parents desperate to conceive pray to God and are granted a child, are most often associated with accounts of the life of St. Anne and the Annunciation. But God is not always the benefactor of these prayers; instead, a devil or demon sometimes visits the mother, usually in the guise of her husband, and begets upon her a child wild and fiendish. The late fifteenth-century romance, Sir Gowther, provides a potent example of this type of Wish-Child motif, for Gowther, the product of such a coupling, is so aggressive and violent that he suckles nine wet nurses to death.
This paper will consider how the Wish-Child motif generally and Sir Gowther in particular manifest medieval anxieties surrounding maternity through the depiction of monstrous offspring. I will argue that, in light of medieval theories of the body that read the maternal corpus as a source of contamination and corruption to the child, the Wish-Child story reproduces precarious images of motherhood through the creation of children that are both mortal and divine, natural and unnatural. Turning specifically to Gowther’s unnatural corporeality and the violent acts that posit him as “sum fendys son,” I will show how Sir Gowther ultimately repudiates the maternal body and asks us to consider how monstrous births “monsterize” the women that engender them.
5. Maria Fields, Henderson State University
“Þerefore is lorn þis litel faunt”: Colliding Xenophobia and Late-Medieval Piety in the Auchinleck King of Tars
In the Auchinleck (National Library of Scotland Advocates’ Manuscript 19.2.1) King of Tars, the poet likens the child of the Christian princess and her Saracen husband to a monster, describing it as “a rond of flesche… wiþouten blod & bon” and having “noiþer nose no eye” (580-82, 584). The monstrous child functions as a symbol of the intersection of xenophobia and late-medieval piety and serves to further differentiate his mother from the Virgin Mary because he exists in opposition to the perfection of the Christ Child. Utilizing a deconstructionist approach, I examine the poem’s opposing symbols, their collision in the formless child, and the resulting societal implications.
7. Beth Sutherland, University of Virginia
Born for Monstrous Sanctity: Margaret and Her (Uncontainable) Dragon
This paper examines monstrosity’s role in three Saint Margaret vitae: the Legenda aurea, South English Legendary, and Katherine Group redactions. Margaret enjoyed immense popularity as the patron of childbirth due to her consumption by a dragon and eruption out of its belly. Her hagiographers, however, express discomfort with this plot-point. Laden with miracles, angels, and demons, taking saints’ lives literally would have required herculean feats of credulity. This specter of dubiety reaches its crisis point when the dragon slithers onstage. The dragon epitomizes all the vita’s semantic slippage, becoming a site at which the hagiographer can puncture the genre by expressing doubt. Deployment of the monstrous constitutes a violent but also a liberating move: eruption, but also birth. Two hagiographers conjure this monstrous spectacle only to disclaim it, exorcising readers’ concerns about their ‘good faith.’ That they protest on theological grounds is perplexing: one could easily redeem the episode as a Jonah analogy. Jesus claims that wonder-seekers will receive only the ‘sign of Jonah,’ taken as an allusion to the Harrowing of Hell. The third hagiographer has Margaret mention the Harrowing before being swallowed, and after asking God for a ‘sign’ of her enemy. He describes the dragon with delectation, recognizing it as a handy phenomenological tool, not a stumbling-block. Theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar describes hell’s inability to contain divinity. Sheol takes Jesus in but must immediately eject him. Hell’s spewing is akin to birth pangs, making Jesus a monstrous birth—issuing forth from what gets represented iconographically as the jaws of a beast. Erupting out of the dragon’s belly, the saint acts as a typological post-figuration of Christ while foreshadowing her rebirth through martyrdom . Monstrosity plays an almost biologically essential role in God’s soteriological project, acting as a womb for sanctity.
8. Stephanie Norris, University of Iowa
“This Can’t Be the Terrible Two’s: Nursing at the Breast of Violence in Sir Gowther”
The late fourteenth century English tale Sir Gowther, a derivative of the French Robert the Devil, narrates the quest for redemption of a knight whose lust for rapacious violence during his youth bears witness to his demon parentage. At the age of fifteen, Gowther’s gigantic stature and unbelievable physical strength facilitate the acts of excessive violence he commits against the people of Austria, particularly clergyman, female religious and married couples. However as an infant, before he was old enough to hang parsons on hooks or burn hermits alive, Gowther’s fiendish ancestry is made manifest in a seemingly insatiable appetite. In fact, the infant Gowther suckles nine wet-nurses to death prior to tearing his own mother’s nipple from her breast when she attempts to nurse him in their stead. Although shockingly heinous, Ian Mitchell-Smith suggests that such acts of excessive violence are sanctioned by the text and reaffirm the homo-social bond of the court, given that they are enacted within the appropriate context (outside the space of the court) and against the proper target (Saracens and other non-Christians). Advancing this perspective, I argue that the violence displayed by Gowther during his childhood actually betrays a cultural anxiety about the miscegenation of Christians with Jews and Saracens – and the threat to stable identity binaries such mixing poses – not just the legitimization of Gowther’s nobility through properly directed violent acts. Reading specific instances of violence in Gowther’s youth in light of his fiendish birth and the bizarre circumstances surrounding his conception in conjunction with the volatile socio-religious culture of late medieval England, I contend that Gowther’s adolescent rabblerousing performs an apprehension about the amalgamation of disparate racial and religious identities that the text struggles to quell.
9. Anna Dow, University of Alberta
In twelfth- and thirteenth-century epic literature the child occupies a liminal status as an empty figure of futurity, divided between death and the potential for heroism. In the Völsunga Saga Sigmund tests King Siggeir’s children for courage, and when they are found wanting he kills them; as neither child is destined to be the hero of the tale it is deemed unnecessary that either should exist. It is Sinfjotli who eventually passes the test, and is therefore permitted to progress into adulthood in order to fulfil his heroic destiny. In a second case, Cú Chulainn’s heroism in the Táin bó Cúailnge is supplemented by the recitation of his childhood deeds. In this instance the child is central to Cú Chulainn’s development, and yet exists only in futurity as a retrospective version of the hero himself. There are two primary points to be addressed here: first, the child’s status as a non-existent and hence monstrous ‘other’ in the literary examples provided; and secondly, the temporal status of the medieval child as a symbol for narrative and heroic potential. Each question also highlights a particular issue for contemporary medieval studies, which is the necessity to differentiate between original and contemporary perceptions of the literature at hand. Interestingly enough, recent work has emerged on the futurity of the child in contemporary society (see Kathryn Bond Stockton’s The Queer Child), and it seems that the dismissal of the child as a symbol of futurity might have deeper roots in our literary history than previously thought.
Marcus Hensel, University of Oregon
Monsters, a Definition
The last twenty or so years have brought with them a heart-warming rise in scholarly work on medieval monsters, but the precision of language used in our analysis has not kept pace. Monster, as a term, has been stretched far past its denotative limit because the prevailing wisdom holds that categorizing the monstrous imposes, to use David Williams’ words, “fundamentally arbitrary and absolutely impermanent” structures. In this paper, I will respond to each of these issues as I construct a working definition of the monster.
First, I reject the notion that categorizing the monstrous is necessarily arbitrary. By using a Cartesian (coordinate) plane, I propose two axes—morphology and behavior—by which to judge potentially monstrous characters: each axis runs from normal/normative to abnormal/antisocial. These axes, in turn, create quadrants, and the one (-x, -y) created by a combination of antisocial behavior and abnormal morphology is the realm of the “monstrous.”
The second issue, the impermanence of definitions, I embrace. Because “antisocial” and “abnormal” are dynamic labels, I follow Noel Caroll in using a situational application. Are the characters in question welcomed or shunned by dominant social structures depicted in the text? Do they provoke disgust? Fear? Violent responses? Does the author treat them more sensitively than the characters? Looking primarily at textual clues with regard to morphology and behavior avoids transcendent (and therefore reductionist) views that ignore local knowledge. But it still provides a framework for differentiating between Grendel and Grettir, or Merlin and a manticore.
Eric Morningstar, University of Michigan-Flint
Monsters in Dante’s Hell: Cultural Implications and Unorthodox Religion
Writing towards the end of the Medieval Ages, Dante Alighieri’s treatment of monstrosity in the Inferno has many important implications for the text itself and for its author. In the Inferno, Dante includes a variety of monsters, including Charon, Minos, Medusa, Pluto, centaurs, and more. Some monstrous figures like Charon and Minos even function to keep Hell running. The inclusion of monstrous figures in Hell serves to make it a truly terrifying place of punishment for sinners, an important goal for Dante as a writer as he criticized many of the corrupt Florentines responsible for Dante’s own exile. Aside from this artistic and political motive, however, Dante’s inclusion of monsters in Hell has some predictable and other disturbing implications. One may read Dante’s placement of monstrous creatures outside of Christianity as servants in Hell as a way of affirming Christianity’s truth over what Virgil describes as, “…the season of the false and lying gods.” This interpretation is predictable given Dante’s dedication to Catholicism. However, one may also pay attention to the role of functionality in his Hell and raise questions. Much like the gates of Hell, the description of which reads, “…MY MAKER WAS DIVINE AUTHORITY, THE HIGHEST WISDOM, AND PRIMAL LOVE…,” one may also view the monstrous servants, representative of false gods, as functional creations of the Christian god. From this second view, the current paper will explore the cultural implications of Dante’s treatment of God as a creator of false gods and architect of damnation for pre-Christians.
Lisa LeBlanc, Anna Maria College
Outlaws were considered the “other” in medieval society. Often referred to as bearing wolves’ heads, they lost their possessions, had no protection under the law and, in the early middle ages, could be killed with impunity, as a wolf could. In the outlaw tales of the Middle Ages, the main characters lost their positions in society and, in the case of outlaws from the upper class, their titles.
This otherness allows for flexibility of identity, and one characteristic of the outlaw tale is the use of disguise. In some cases, the characters borrow the identity of lower class laborers, even a prostitute. In others, the identity goes beyond occupation to physically changing one’s appearance or taking on a false name.
That the disguise motif appears often in outlaw tales is logical since the condemnation of someone as an outlaw essentially deprived the individual of identity as a citizen of the country. This paper will explore the slippery nature of identity in outlaw tales, looking at the interrelation of legal loss of identity as well as the creation of new, temporary identities by the outlaws.
Cyborgs in Shining Armor: Post-Human Knighthood in Medieval Romance
Rodger Wilkie, St. Thomas University
Cyborgs have been defined by Clynes and Kline as “self-regulating man-machine systems,” by Haraway as “the figure born of the interface of automaton and autonomy,” and by Hess as “any identity between machine and human or any conflation of the machine/human boundary.” What these definitions have in common is the configuration of the biological and the technological into a single system. Given the language of these and other definitions, it is not surprising that most discussions of cyborgs have focused upon periods post-dating the middle ages—periods in which the terms “machine” and, more basically “technology,” have been understood largely in contexts relevant to the industrial and post-industrial periods. And yet this quintessentially post-human figure is useful in understanding the relationship of the armored knight of medieval romance to the arms that he bears, and the role that these arms play in constructing a heroic identity.
The proposed paper will therefore discuss the armored knight of medieval Arthurian romance—specifically Perceval in Chretien’s Conte Du Graal, Gawain in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and Lancelot in Malory’s Morte D’Arthure—in the context of cyborg theory, and will argue that the hero of chivalric romance is in fact a cyborg. It will address Perceval’s changing understanding of arms in relation to knighthood, Gawain’s relationship to his armaments in preparation for his encounter with the Green Knight, and the role of armor in containing the instability embodied by Lancelot. The paper will then explore some interpretive possibilities offered by treating the romance hero as a cyborg, such as considering the hero as simultaneously agent and tool, viewing the hero as a figure straddling the human/machine border, and therefore understanding heroic identity as distributed across both biological and technological components, i.e. as partially prosthetic.
Dr. Larissa “Kat” Tracy, Longwood University
Title: ‘For Our dere Ladyes sake’: Bringing the Outlaw in from the Forest—Robin Hood, Marian, and Normative National Identity
Few outlaw tales are as popular or as persistent as the legend of Robin Hood that has made its way from fifteenth-century ballads to modern blockbuster films. Within this long tradition, Robin Hood is often associated with the fair Maid Marian, his love, his paramour, his inspiration; but in the earlier tradition of the outlaw tales, Maid Marian does not exist, Robin’s singular devotion, like that of King Arthur and Sir Gawain in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, is to the Virgin Mary. It is this association that normalizes Robin in the ballads and places him in an exalted, nationalist position—contrary to his construction as a border walker and outlaw. For fifteenth-century audiences, Robin’s devotion to Mary makes him a mainstream hero, on par with Arthurian tradition, and contradicts his marginal status that has been celebrated in modern popular culture. After the Reformation, in order to bring Robin in line with English concerns of national identity, the Virgin Mary is transformed in the early-modern period into a secular lover, Maid Marian. Through Robin’s devotion to, first the Virgin Mary, and then her secularized successor, Marian, the famous outlaw is presented to medieval and early-modern audiences not as a figure of liminality and transgression but as a normative construction of national and religious identity.
Monster, Hero, Outlaw: Reading Grettis saga through Beowulf
Joyce Tally Lionarons and Melissa Pankake, Ursinus College
The similarities between the monster fights in Beowulf and Grettis saga have been noted—and contested—by scholars for over a hundred and fifty years. Most have chosen to use Grettis saga to illuminate portions of Beowulf; the possible analogue has been employed tentatively to clarify the exact nature of Grendel’s mere, the details of Beowulf’s youth, and even the cause of his death. But what happens if we turn the lens around and try to use the massive library of Beowulf scholarship to illuminate Grettis saga? In this paper, we will not seek to prove that Grettir’s story is related to that of Beowulf and Grendel, but to discover how we can read Grettir under the assumption that he is related to the themes of monstrosity and exile which Beowulf and Grendel exemplify. The fact that Grettir is comparable both to Beowulf (as a hero) and Grendel (as a monster) points to the inverted, ambiguous place he occupies in the saga. When we examine the relationship between men and monsters in the two texts, a shared tradition emerges in which a Christian society dealing with its pagan past must alienate its monster hunters and identify them with what they fight. Like Beowulf, Grettis saga is concerned with the social situations and psychological qualities that can make monsters out of heroic men.
On the Formulation of a Plan: The Rhetoric of the Devil’s Revenge in Genesis B
R. A. Burley, Boston College
After his fall from grace in the Old English Genesis B, the Devil finds himself exiled to Hell, brooding on his failure and plotting his revenge. Utterly powerless and chained in the pit, he still manages to cause the Fall of humankind. This paper argues that it is because of the rhetorical sophistication of his two speeches – especially his second, beginning at line 356 – that this is made possible. Through his eloquence, as defined by his use of larger rhetorical patterns, an exiled yet powerful Devil is created: one who is able to affect the course of events on Earth from his confinement beyond the borders of our world. In this way, then, the first outlaw and outsider becomes the very cause of unlawfulness and exile in humanity.
Loquelam animali dederas: St. Christopher and Definitions of Humanity in the Ninth and Tenth-Century
Melanie Kourbage, U. of Mass. Amherst
Today, St. Christopher is known as the kind-hearted giant who transported pilgrims over a river. Christopher’s identity as a cynocephalus, a dog-headed giant, was excised from his legend sometime between the late tenth and early thirteenth century. By the time Jacob de Voragine recorded Christopher’s tale in the Legenda Aurea in the late thirteenth century, few traces of Christopher’s cynocephalism remained. Though his cult could never boast of many shrines in Western Europe, the dog-headed version of St. Christopher achieved some popularity in the ninth and tenth centuries. No fewer than three hagiographical passiones, an anonymous prose passio from Fulda, a verse passio by Walther Speyer, and another anonymous verse passio, date from this period. The interest in Christopher stems from the usefulness of his legend in contemporary debates over the nature of humanity. Carolingians repeatedly asked: if the exotic races to the east exist, are they human? Did all races of men have souls, and if so, did the Christian west have an obligation to preach the gospels to them? In an age in which foreign invaders could seem less than human, these questions were timely and essential. For many scholars, cynocephali provided a convenient topic for discussing definitions of humanity. The passio Christophori contained in Cod. Vindobonensis 550 must be read in the context of contemporary discussion on the exotic races, as the anonymous hagiographer used this passio to comment humorously on the ontological questions of humanity and the folly of empty rhetoric.
Leslie Spitz-Edson, No Title Submitted
Along with the valkyrie, the berserker is one of the best-known “monsters” of the Viking Age. Unlike the valkyrie, however, who was most likely a construction of the male imagination (Jenny Jochens), the berserker seems to have been “real” – real enough, anyhow, to have been, at the beginning of the 11th century, forbidden by Jarl Erik of Lade to conduct certain activities that would “disturb the peace.” (Grettis saga). According to early sources the berserker was a warrior and a shape-shifter who could morph into a bear or bear-like creature without warning, enter into an insensible, trancelike state, and rage with a lethal battle-lust that could be directed at friend or foe alike. While in this condition the berserker’s superhuman strength and imperviousness to fear and pain made him an asset on the battlefield.
The connection with bears, which may have been attained during some sort of initiatory rite, bestowed upon these warriors superhuman strength and a unique position in the social order – after all the bear was the largest, most feared predator in the northern forests. However, the bear has other associations in the cultures of northern Europe, associations that tie it not only to combat, predation and death in this world, but also to fertility, rebirth and the supernatural. An exploration of these associations suggests that, while he was quite likely a liminal and somewhat unwelcome creature vis-à-vis society as a whole (particularly by the end of the Viking era), the special role that the berserker played can be seen as a key to the spirituality of the violent Viking age – a spirituality that, by the time of Jarl Erik’s prohibition, was being swiftly disavowed.
Sandra Ballif Straubhaar, University of Texas at Austin
To Kiss or Not to Kiss: The Polysemic Finngálkn in the Legendary Sagas
Two ambiguous female figures in the late-medieval Icelandic legendary sagas are called finngálkn — a rare word for a fabulous monster which has come down into modern Icelandic as a designation for “centaur,” but seems originally to divide up into pieces meaning “Finnish/Lappish” (i.e., exotic, foreign) and “frightful thing.” In both cases the finngálkn has some human body parts and some beastly ones (fangs, a tail and talons in one case; hooves, a tail and a horse’s snout in the other). Both of these female monsters can crossbreed with humans, since one has already done it — she is the mother of a particularly nasty, hero-threatening antagonist — and one will become the major love-interest for the saga’s hero. This second beast-monster, the more benign of the two, also bears gifts — notably a powerful sword intended for the hero, which he has already foreseen in a dream; but, as it turns out, he must kiss her horsey lips before she will part with it. The hero and the finngálkn then have a poetic conversation wherein the hero worries that his human lips will stick fast to her equine ones; but, as it turns out, they don’t, and the prize weapon is his.
I intend to compare and contrast the two legendary saga narratives — one from Örvar-Odds saga and one from Hjálmþés saga — with an eye toward their respective presentations of the finngálkn. Was the original saga audience meant to assume that such beast-monsters were common in foreign lands of adventure and quest, or would they simply construe them as fabulous elements in a fantastic story? Were these figures possibly meant to be construed as ordinary human women under magical spells? Questions like these, and others, will be the focus of my presentation.
Monstrous Spaces: The Fairies of Sir Orfeo on the Edge of the Medieval World
Using J.B. Friedman’s classification of the monstrous races and Michael Camille’s discussion of medieval marginalia, this paper will discuss the fairy world and its location in the romance of Sir Orfeo. The paper argues that the realm of fairies, and the realm of the monstrous, can be considered a liminal space that offers commentary on human society because of its unique position. The fairy world is also defined by the thirteenth- and fourteenth-century debates over the physical placement of purgatory and other mystical spaces. Monsters are always located on the edges of the world in medieval maps, and the fairies of Sir Orfeo also live somewhere between the human world and the spiritual world. The placement of the fairy world exposes both social and folkloric concerns with the placement of the “other.” Because of Sir Orfeo’s folkloric motifs, the text draws heavily upon Celtic and Welsh literary depictions of the otherworld. The fairy world in Sir Orfeo contains the residual, Welsh idea of the “not-world,” separate yet near human society. Like the marginal images that decorate the texts of many medieval manuscripts, fairyland is close enough that it can provide commentary on the human civilization, yet far enough away that it is located on the “edges” of the known. Monsters exist to break down the boundaries of what is human, so the place where monsters exist can also break down the boundaries between “here” and “far away.” The fairyland of Sir Orfeo is a unique space in Middle English literature because of its near-yet-far location situated on the periphery of human consciousness.
University of California, Riverside
Robin Hood and the Irish Knife: Outlaws, Monstrosity, and (Literal) Defacement
In the fifteenth-century ballad “Robin Hood and Guy of Gisbourne,” Robin uses an “Iryssh knife” to enact gruesome vengeance on his foe: “Robin pulled forth an Irish kniffe/and nicked Sir Guy in the face,/that hee was never on a woman borne/cold tell who Sir Guy was.” The “Irish knife,” the only weapon specifically identified in the ballad as having a foreign origin, is the weapon used to literally deface Sir Guy’s corpse Though not the weapon that directly kills Sir Guy, it is this foreign weapon that eliminates his identity, suggesting concerns about foreignness and outsiders that enter even into the idyllic greenwood space: this is a monstrous act, one that strips away human appearance and flesh. The Irish knife, unlike the unmarked sword that Robin uses to actually kill his adversary, stands out here as a more powerful weapon, carried by the outlaw against English knighthood (Robin, the forest-dweller, defeating the man referred to as Sir Guy twice in the four-line stanza describing the defacement). Throughout the ballad, the Irish knife acts as a weapon against human identity and human constructed authority, and introduces an anxiety about the monstrous nature of the foreigner, which becomes powerfully linked with the world of the outlaw in the heart of the England, the wild greenwood.
Infinite Deferral and Endless Adventure: Mandeville’s Travels Down the Via Negativa
Few critics have attempted to read Mandeville’s Travels as a theological project—as a map to God. I propose that, despite the spectacle coursing throughout the narrative, the text assumes a paradoxically apophatic attitude towards discovery.
The Other has long dominated Mandevillean scholarship, but a closer look at the text suggests that the most shocking thing about travel is the perpetually ‘new’ worlds behind the Other. Far more tantalizing than the spectacle of Travels is that which the author tells us he cannot tell us. Our explorer-subject subtly weaves allusions to inaccessible lands into a larger tale of wondrous sights and adventure. Whether a city cloaked in darkness, a place beyond the forbidding Gravelly Sea, an island of even larger giants beyond a land of ‘smaller’ giants, or Paradise itself—unreachable locations pepper Mandeville’s Travels. One might counter that this unknowability gets balanced by the concretization of holiness in Jerusalem itself. Each of the holy sites/objects, however, relies on empty space for its significance—such as the Sepulcher, the Ark, and imprints left in the ground by holy bodies. Paralleling the impenetrability of lands on the brink of Mandeville’s world, the center itself offers no direct conduit to Truth. These inaccessible places and hollow spaces call for an invocation of negative theological thought, even allowing us to read Travels as itself a theological project. This paper makes use of the works of the Pseudo-Dionysius, the Cloud-poet, and Jacques Derrida to flesh out the nature of Mandeville’s apophasis.
“Men and Monsters: Who’s Who in the Late Medieval ‘Fortress of Faith’”
Brooke Falk, Rutgers University
In the medieval Christian mind, clear distinctions among non-Christians often failed to exist. “Others,” including but not limited to Jews and Muslims, shared ugly physiognomies, visual manifestations of their social deviance as imagined by Christians. The perceived malignancy of non-Christians transformed them into a monstrous species. The “Fortress of Faith,” a Latin Franciscan text of around 1460 drew on this phenomenon explicitly linking the actions and appearances of heretics, Jews, Muslims and demons through both word and image. The “Fortress of Faith,” or Fortalitium fidei, and its subsequent copies intentionally conflated and dehumanized non-Christians and encouraged their expulsion from Christendom. This paper uses the “Fortress of Faith” to explore the medieval boundaries between humans and non-humans in relation to religion and race.
The text records a scathing list of crimes allegedly committed against the Church by its enemies. Three discrete volumes address heretics, Jews and Muslims, while a final volume is devoted to demons. Images of a fortress under siege punctuate the text and allegorically represent Christianity’s daily struggle to defend itself against the unfaithful. This message was received with widespread popularity due to contemporary Christian zeal and the work’s emergence at the pivotal moment when manuscripts and printed books were simultaneously produced. The various methods of production yielded variety in imagery, but both painted illuminations and colored woodcuts effectively convey the universal threat that non-Christians seemingly posed against Christian society. Most manuscript illuminations depict one enemy attacking the castle, but human and demon gestures indicate equally violent physical assaults. Woodcuts present the enemies in a single image; heretics attempt to uproot the fortress as their cohort outsiders observe. Both types of images and the text of the “Fortress of Faith” present non-Christians as demonic creatures of Christian destruction, blurring the biological distinction between medieval man and monster.
University of Massachusetts Amherst
“If anyone should slay this animal, would he be called a homicide?”:
Giraldus Cambrensis and the Werewolves of Ossory
In Giraldus Cambrensis’ The Topography of Ireland, he tells of a priest who is asked to give last rites to a woman in the guise of a wolf, the result of a curse placed on her people by Saint Natalis (every seven years, a man and a woman of Ossory must agree to become wolves; should they survive, they can then be transformed back while others take their place). Considering these transformed creatures, Cambrensis asks if they are more animal or human since they retain their reason despite their bestial appearances. This tension between inner and outer identity is common to many werewolf stories, yet Cambrensis emphasizes the border between those identities by allowing the she-wolf’s skin to be pulled back, revealing the woman within, and then refitted to its original shape. Through this act of undressing and redressing, Cambrensis suggests that her bestial appearance does not touch or alter the human within, yet a later confession by the he-wolf that his nation is sinful and deserving of punishment challenges an easy distinction between inner and outer appearances.
In this presentation, I use Cambrensis’ werewolf story and the somatic anxieties it raises to consider the role of skin in defining and delineating the nature of a creature whether human or beast. Comparing this story with other contemporary werewolf tales, I look at how the medieval werewolf was constructed and the frequent role that clothing or skin played in its conception. Finally, I engage with Cambrensis’ question “If anyone should slay this animal, would he be called a homicide?” Though Cambrensis responds by suggesting the question should remain unanswered, I consider the implications of his werewolf’s hybridity, and how its removable skin can be read as both a border separating beast from human as well as a covering that encompasses both.
Dear Asa, Jeff, Larissa, Derek, and Renee,
Thank you for your thoughtful and thought-provoking message, which at your request I am sending to all members of the Council of the Academy, voting and non-voting. I know I speak for them all in expressing gratitude for the time and effort you invested in writing your statement, in posting it on your website, and in sending it to us. Likewise, I know I speak for them in expressing our hope that you will reconsider your decision to resign from the Academy.
The members of the Executive Committee knew that the decision which was reached was bound to be controversial, given the different opinions expressed through the poll. We made the decision for the reasons we expressed in our announcement. The decision did not encourage, discourage, or mandate attendance. To attend or not to attend is a matter for individuals to decide for themselves. For members, the decision will not involve a financial penalty, as it would have done for the Academy had the Executive Committee canceled the meeting. Subsequent to the announcement of the decision on 3 August, the Executive Committee has learned that by MA statute, a quorum of the Council can be present through telephone conference.
Again, thank you for setting forth the views of your members and for sending them to us.
With every good wish, Peggy
The “Monstrosity” issue of Different Visions is now live! Guest-edited by Debra Higgs Strickland and me, it contains articles by Susan M. Kim (co-authored with me), Dana Oswald, Rosalyn Saunders, Suzanne Lewis, and Debra. It is free and open access, so you should all check it out! This grew out of a MEARCSTAPA session at Leeds, and is a great result of our collective work!
The 46th International Congress on Medieval Studies
Kalamazoo, MI (as ever)
May 12-15, 2011
Outlaws, Outliers, and Outsiders
This panel explores the intersection of myth and reality, of boundaries and borders between this world, other worlds and their inhabitants. From tales of outlaws exiled by law to those who lurk on the boundaries of “civilization,” this panel welcomes papers on all manner of outsiders in any genre.
Prehuman, Nonhuman, Posthuman: Monsters in the Middle Ages
This panel explores the concept of monstrosity in the Middle Ages, as well as connections between understandings of the monstrous in the medieval and all subsequent periods. Submissions are welcome on all aspects of the monstrous in all fields of study from the medieval to modern medievalism.
Send abstracts via email to: