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The Curse of Eve, the Wound of the Hero

Blood, Gender, and Medieval Literature

By Peggy McCracken

Publication Year: 2003

In The Curse of Eve, the Wound of the Hero, Peggy McCracken explores the role of blood symbolism in establishing and maintaining the sex-gender systems of medieval culture. Reading a variety of literary texts in relation to historical, medical, and religious discourses about blood, and in the context of anthropological and religious studies, McCracken offers a provocative examination of the ways gendered cultural values were mapped onto blood in the Middle Ages.

As McCracken demonstrates, blood is gendered when that of men is prized in stories about battle and that of women is excluded from the public arena in which social and political hierarchies are contested and defined through chivalric contest. In her examination of the conceptualization of familial relationships, she uncovers the privileges that are grounded in gendered definitions of blood relationships. She shows that in narratives about sacrifice a father's relationship to his son is described as a shared blood, whereas texts about women accused of giving birth to monstrous children define the mother's contribution to conception in terms of corrupted, often menstrual blood. Turning to fictional representations of bloody martyrdom and of eucharistic ritual, McCracken juxtaposes the blood of the wounded guardian of the grail with that of Christ and suggests that the blood from the grail king's wound is characterized in opposition to that of women and Jewish men.

Drawing on a range of French and other literary texts, McCracken shows how the dominant ideas about blood in medieval culture point to ways of seeing modern values associated with blood in a new light, and how modern representations in turn suggest new perspectives on medieval perceptions.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press


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pp. ix-xii

Blood seems to be everywhere in medieval culture. Christian writers debate the nature of the blood of Christ in the doctrine of transubstantiation, and some of them describe the abuse of Christ’s blood in antisemitic...

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1. Only Women Bleed

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pp. 1-20

In 1975 Alice Cooper released a song entitled “Only Women Bleed.” It is a song about the emotional and physical abuse of women by the men they love, and it is a song that betrays surprisingly medieval-sounding descriptions of gender relations...

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2. The Amenorrhea of War

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pp. 21-40

Blood and war would seem to be a natural pair—it is hard to imagine a battle without blood, as a whole spate of recent movies about World War II have graphically reminded us. Military heroism seems to demand bloodshed, or at least the possibility of bloodshed. But only one kind of blood is conventionally shed in war: men’s blood. To be sure, women...

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3. The Gender of Sacrifice

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pp. 41-60

In the twelfth-century Philomena attributed to Chr

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4. Menstruation and Monstrous Birth

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pp. 61-76

In the preceding chapter I claimed that the exclusion of mothers from sacrificial practice corresponds to a particular way of conceptualizing lineage. That is, the gendering of sacrifice corresponds to the gendered hierarchy promoted in representations of blood ties ...

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5. The Scene of Parturition

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pp. 77-91

That a child shares its mother’s blood is made vividly clear in birth:the umbilical cord offers striking evidence that the maternal relationship is a blood relationship. The blood of parturition further demonstrates a child’s origins in its mother’s blood, though the evidence of birth is often unacknowledged in symbolic representations of blood relationships, as...

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6. The Grail and Its Hosts

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pp. 92-109

This study has focused primarily on the metaphorical or figural meanings of blood in medieval fictions—on the valorization of men’s public bloodshed in contrast to the private and hidden bloodshed of women in the construction of military heroism...

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Conclusion: Bleeding for Love

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pp. 110-118

In the preceding chapters, I have identified a number of medieval narratives in which blood plays an important role in defining the gendered values that structure the stories they recount. And I have argued that in these representations blood itself comes to be gendered, and to naturalize gendered cultural values. I have examined...


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pp. 119-154


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pp. 155-172


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pp. 173-176

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pp. 177- 178

One of the greatest pleasures of working on this book was talking about it with colleagues and friends. I am very grateful to David Biale, Caroline Jewers, Catherine M. Jones, Ruth Mazo Karras, Nadia Margolis, Leslie Zarker Morgan, Jerome A. Singerman, and Valerie Traub for suggesting...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812202755
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812237139

Page Count: 200
Publication Year: 2003