Cover

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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi

Contents

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pp. vii-viii

Maps and Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xiv

The life of this project has already been long and varied, and my debts are many. I must begin by thanking Diane Owen Hughes, who continues to be an inspiration to me as a thinker, writer, and friend. Leigh Ann Craig read a full draft of the manuscript and offered marvelous feedback, then continued to be an excellent sounding board for...

Abbreviations

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pp. xv-xviii

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Introduction

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pp. 1-18

This book charts a history of the unknown: of pure, unslaked curiosity. It seems only appropriate, then, to begin with questions. These are just a few of the many things that medieval people wondered about death and afterlife...

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Part One. Imagining Mortality

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pp. 19-22

Death remains elusive. For the living it must always be an imagined experience, albeit one regarded with terror. Human cultures ever and always have strived to pierce through mortality’s shroud, unearth death’s secrets, and see into the shadowy world that is imagined to exist postmortem. How does a living person become an inanimate object...

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Chapter 1. Mors: A Critical Biography

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pp. 23-65

A 1355 fresco from the Abbey of Lavaudieu portrays Mors as an allegorical figure: Lady Death ( figure 1.1 ). She triumphantly clutches arrows in each fist and stands surrounded by heaps of fresh corpses. She might almost be a nun but for the vivid red of her dress, which is topped by a white cloak and black veil. The latter is pulled low over her...

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Chapter 2. Diagnosing Death

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pp. 66-108

On July 24, 1224, a woman named Christina died in the town of Saint Trond in the Low Countries. She was in her midseventies, an age people of her time seldom attained; most would have perished some time earlier. And so in fact did Christina: the summer of 1224 marked her third death.
Christina expired for the first time in 1182, after a prolonged illness...

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Part Two. Corporeal Revenants

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pp. 109-112

As Christianity expanded into northern Europe from its origins in the eastern Mediterranean it came into contact with many different populations that sustained distinct religious pantheons and cultural practices. Converting these societies was a long-term process of cultural exchange, convergence, and assimilation. The civilization that emerged in the...

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Chapter 3. Revenants, Resurrection, and Burnt Sacrifice

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pp. 113-156

When, in the first quarter of the thirteenth century, Snorri Sturluson began to compose his Heimskringla (History of the Kings of Norway), he wrote a preface in order to introduce his project. He explained that he wished to set down in writing all the available historical information concerning the ancient royal chieftains of the Norse...

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Chapter 4. The Ancient Army of the Undead

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pp. 157-205

In the twelfth century some communities of the dead suddenly poured out from their subterranean mountain redoubts to go wandering.

In the province of Worms a not inconsiderable multitude of armed knights was seen coming and going for several days. The troop seemed to be having friendly conversations among themselves, now here and...
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Chapter 5. Flesh and Bone: The Semiotics of Mortality

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pp. 206-254

When a human being dies . . . the body that gave comfort to many people while it was alive, provokes horror in the same people after death. Hence the saying:

Human flesh is viler than a sheep’s skin.
When a sheep dies, its remains still have value...

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Part Three. The Disembodied Dead

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pp. 255-258

Part 3 turns to the south of Europe, examining regional cultures in the meridional sphere. This area tended to envision the returned dead as disembodied shades, rather than as corporeal revenants. Geographically, the two chapters that follow are centered on the southern part of France, from the Pyrenees to the Alps, and on the Italian peninsula...

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Chapter 6. Psychopomps, Oracles, and Spirit Mediums

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pp. 259-301

Let us begin with a myth of origins, one that returns us to the early eleventh century. As Thietmar of Merseburg was writing of resurrection and revenants in the northeastern marches of Germany, farther south, in the Auvergne region of France, the dead were at the top of the agenda of the monastery of Cluny. A charismatic abbot, Odilo, had become head of the...

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Chapter 7. Spectral Possession

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pp. 302-345

These two testimonies appear to be in dialogue. The first quotation, authored by Giovanni Matteoti, seems to be directly addressed and refuted by the second, penned by Zeno of Verona. Yet the effect is purely an illusion: in fact, Zeno of Verona lived more than a millennium before Giovanni Matteoti. Zeno was a fourth-century bishop of the city whose name he bears, likely born circa...

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Conclusion

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pp. 346-352

The jacket of this book features the image of a tarot card from the most complete surviving medieval deck. Dating from about 1451, this particular deck was made for Francesco Sforza and his wife Bianca, the illegitimate daughter of Duke Filippo Maria Visconti. Today the deck is held by the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York.1 The Viscontis

Index

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pp. 353-363