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  • Wounds in the Middle Ages ed. by Cordelia Warr and Anne Kirkham
  • Peter Murray Jones
Cordelia Warr and Anne Kirkham, eds. Wounds in the Middle Ages. Surrey, UK: Ashgate, 2014. xiv + 254 pp. Ill. $124.95 (978-1-4094-6569-0).

As the editors point out in the introduction, wounds were potent signifiers reaching across all aspects of life as it was experienced in Europe in the Middle Ages. This collection is at its most innovatory and persuasive when the authors are exploring these significations, less so when they are talking about wound treatment as surgical intervention. Cordelia Warr’s chapter on “Changing Stigmata” explores interpretations of the wounds visited on the body of St. Francis in the form of stigmata. She concentrates on texts from the fifteenth to the seventeenth century, which stress the miraculousness of the continuously flowing blood of the wounds, in order to head off the suggestion that Francis’s stigmata could be the “natural” result of bloodletting or scarring. Louise Wilson’s chapter, “Miracle and Medicine: Conceptions of Medical Knowledge and Practice in Thirteenth-Century Miracle Accounts,” makes a good companion to Warr’s, as it explores the impact of the scholastic medicine of the thirteenth century on the authentication of miracles of healing, including that of wounds, by purported saints. Her case study focuses on the miracles of St. Edmund of Abingdon, and she shows that his miracle stories relied on humoral theory as an explanation for illness, and on the diagnostic and prognostic judgment of physicians. As much as anything this reflected the participation of physicians themselves in the canonization process, where they were called on as experts to draw the line between natural and miraculous healing. Surgeons were not likely to be consulted, and their expertise was not so highly valued as that of the physicians. M. K. K. Yearl’s chapter on “Medicine for the Wounded Soul” also makes fruitful use of the interaction of medicine and religion, but at an earlier period, the twelfth century, before scholastic medicine was fully developed. She shows how the De medicina animae (On the medicine of the soul) of Hugh of Fouilloy and the De natura corporis et animae (On the nature of body and soul) of William of Saint-Thierry both applied the methods and [End Page 803] language of medicine to the care of the wounded soul. Both works are allegorical and moralizing, yet they apply medical theory, methods, and language in a way that is surprisingly systematic.

Romance and law are two other areas of discourse where wounds and wounding had great resonance. Hannah Priest’s chapter on “Christ’s Wounds and the Birth of Romance” claims that the extraordinary emphasis on the wounded body in the early romance Erec et Enide by Chretien de Troyes set the stage for subsequent chivalric romances. The knight Erec is wounded again and again, a sign not of powerless victimization but of parallels between the wounding of Christ himself and that of the knight errant, thus establishing a new paradigm of suffering and redeeming masculinity. In language strikingly less high flown than romance, legal codes and court records in Scandinavia and England devoted attention to the appropriate penalties and compensation for wounding of all kinds. Jenny Benham’s “Wounding in the High Middle Ages: Law and Practice” compares the legal context of wounds in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries for both regions, with plenty of fascinating particular examples. She points out that much work still has to be done in the legal archives to bring historical attention to wounding up to the level of that afforded to murder and rape. Lila Yawn’s “The Bright Side of the Knife: Dismemberment in Medieval Europe and the Modern Imagination” offers a spirited rebuttal of modern assumptions that the Middle Ages were uniquely obsessed with cruel dismemberment. The episode of King Arthur’s duel with the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail is emblematic of the too-easy equation of medieval and mutilation.

Other chapters in the book deal with the management of military wounds, the dissolution of continuity as a framework for learned medicine’s understanding of wounds, fourteenth...


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