Anima Carnis in Sanguine Est:Blood, Life, and The King of Tars
After witnessing the baptism of his son, in which the boy miraculously metamorphoses from a formless lump of flesh into a living child, the Sultan in the Middle English romance The King of Tars decides that his wife’s Christian God is the true Father of all; spurred by this revelatory perception, the formerly Saracen Sultan is, in turn, baptized. Now that he is also a devout Christian, this Sultan, the ruler of Damascus, rushes to tell his father-in-law, the titular king, the entire case of his conversion. As the narrator reports, the Sultan plans to inform the king:
Hou þe child ded born wasA misforschapen þing;& þurth þe preier of his wiifHou God hadde sent it leme & liifIn water ate cristening;& hou þat heþen soudanWas bicome a Cristen man.(ll. 977–83).1
In the narrator’s account, Christianity, which sends “liif” to the Sultan’s son, is a metamorphic force that plays a vital role in determining the categorization of the living and the dead. Like his son, the Sultan is equally given new life through Christian baptism, metamorphosing from “heþen” to Christian. With these dual (re)vitalizations, the narrator demonstrates a link between what we might call religious and biological categorization, which the poem identifies and develops through representations of transformative miracles. In this essay, I elucidate the implications of this link and these transformations in relation to medical discourse and the question of individual identity.
For the author of The King of Tars, religion is figured chiefly in terms of presence and absence and is determined according to either the belief in, or ignorance of, Christ. Within this framework, the Sultan is thus a “Sarazin,” not because he follows any written doctrine, but because he lacks knowledge of Christ. What I will call biology is figured in terms of what [End Page 442] medieval medical authors would call “properties.” This term is famously used, for instance, by John Trevisa in his translation of Bartholomaeus Anglicus’s De Proprietatibus Rerum, the fourth book of which, as Trevisa explains, contains information on the body’s internal composition: “To trete of þe porpertees of mannes body and of þe parties þerof, we schul first biginne to trete of þe qualitees of þe elementis and of þe humoures of whiche þe body is maad.”2 The elements and the humors are only a starting point for understanding the body’s properties: Trevisa introduces Book 5 by turning from the body’s inner composition to its outer features. “For we haue ispoken of þe propirtees of humoures,” Trevisa explains, “now it falliþ to speke somwhat of þe disposicioun of membres þat ben imaad and componed of þe forseid humours” (5.163). The role of the humors can only be fully understood once one also learns what they comprise; and, consequently, the “propirtees” of the body can only be fully understood once one considers its members in addition to its humoral composition. For Trevisa in particular and the body of medieval knowledge he transmits in general, the properties of the human body—what we now call biology—are both internal and external.
These internal and external qualities are depicted in The King of Tars through the poem’s focus on fleshly form. As I will argue in greater detail below, the form of the body is conceived in the poem in terms of both inner and outer attributes: of blood and bone as well as facial features and limbs. The poem thus imagines the concept of bodily “form” in the same way that Trevisa describes the composition and role of bodily “properties.” In addition to this focus on form, the poem also describes the body through sensory experience. When the Princess leaves Tars to marry the Sultan of Damascus, for example, her parents, the King and Queen of Tars, “chaunged boþe hide & hewe/For sorwe & reweli chere” (ll. 371–72). This change indicates that the properties of the physical body, its form, are subject to alteration. Similar bodily metamorphoses—most notably, of the lump from flesche to boy and of the Sultan from black to white—permeate the poem. Below, I demonstrate that these changes inform the poem’s conceptualization of the body and its “propirtees.” In doing so, I argue that experience in The King of Tars has a direct influence on fleshly, material being: bodily metamorphoses comprise the poem’s discourse of “biology.” My understanding of what constitutes the “biological” registers the body’s inner and outer form as well as its relation and susceptibility to metamorphosis. [End Page 443]
The few scholars who have worked on The King of Tars have provided compelling analyses of the poem’s portrayal of identity, both physical and religious.3 Following the critical prompt of Jane Gilbert, these scholars have also, as I too have done, noted a connection in the poem between religion and biology.4 The present article extends this line of critical inquiry through a detailed analysis of the formless lump of flesh. As previous critics have rightly maintained, the lump cannot be classified according to either discourse; I build on this problem of classification by demonstrating that the lump is the figure around which these discourses—seemingly divergent from the perspective of modern scholars, but linked in medieval thought—merge. I argue that the specific link between biology and religion is articulated by a vocabulary of blood that the poem shares with medieval medical discourse.
My argument falls into three sections. In the first, I develop a clear relationship between The King of Tars and the late fourteenth-century Liber Uricrisiarum by Dominican friar Henry Daniel. The King of Tars predates Daniel’s work, but the two writers are connected in their shared discussion of a particular bodily phenomenon: the “mola,” also called, according to Daniel, a “wunderlumpe” or an “elvysch cake,” which are dense pieces of flesh that can sometimes be formed in a woman’s uterus, causing her to think and feel that she is pregnant. Daniel’s naming of this elvish phenomenon, I argue, establishes a discursive framework through which to reconsider the symbolic valences of the “misforschapen þing” in The King of Tars. In the second section, I show that the discourse shared between the poem and medicine is, specifically, a discourse of blood. The third part then develops the religious ramifications of the poem’s vocabulary of blood, explaining its connection to the Eucharist and ultimately contending that blood is the nexus not only of physical and spiritual life in the poem but also of medical and religious discourse. These arguments have a twofold significance for contemporary scholarship: in showing the confluence of medical and literary discourse, this article elucidates both an overlooked medical pioneer and an underexamined medieval poem.5 [End Page 444] My point is not that the author of The King of Tars was an accomplished reader of medical texts, but rather that the specialist, medical vocabulary of blood is germane to representations of blood in the poem. The point is not that the language in The King of Tars is in fact incredibly sophisticated, but instead that the poem demonstrates the ways in which a conventionally erudite vocabulary is rendered plainly.
I. MEDICAL DISCOURSES OF BLOOD: HENRY DANIEL
The formless piece of flesh that is born of the Christian Princess of Tars evades religious categorization because it is entirely unidentifiable as a living being. This notion of giving birth to an inanimate lump of flesh intersects with medical treatises, such as Aristotle’s Generation of Animals, and specifically gynaecological treatises, such as Pseudo-Albertus Magnus’s De Secretis Mulierum and Soranus of Ephesus’s Gynaecology.6 These treatises all call such lumps “mola,” dense pieces of flesh that can be formed in the place of a fetus, causing a woman to think and feel that she is pregnant. For Aristotle, mola are caused generally by a weakness of heat, creating an undercooked mass. Women suffering from this condition, mola uteri, may endure it and believe they are pregnant for three to four years, or even well into old age. When mola are finally discharged, they are “so hard that it is difficult to cut them in two even by means of an iron edge.” A mole, then, never develops into a full fetus: “in its nature,” Aristotle explains, “it is neither a finished product nor yet something wholly alien.”7 It borders on the human, Aristotle here suggests, but never fully becomes human. Although a woman carrying a mole “thinks she has conceived,” in other words, conception has not actually occurred. Unlike other gestational problems, such as miscarriages or premature births, mola are not the result of a pregnancy gone wrong: they are not the result of a pregnancy at all.
This medical explanation of mola is codified and complicated by Henry Daniel in the Liber Uricrisiarum, a late fourteenth-century (ca. 1379) treatise that survives in a staggering thirty-seven manuscripts.8 As the first [End Page 445] known medical figure to write encyclopedic medicine in English, Daniel is representative of both the authoritative medieval medical tradition and of a developing, specifically vernacular medical discourse. Daniel participates in the existing authoritative medical tradition as he, citing Aristotle as his source, describes a malady called “mola matricis or molos matricis, ‘the moderis bagge’ or ‘the bagge moder,’” also called, he states, “frustrum monstruosum, ‘the wunder gubbe,’ ‘the wunder gobet,’ ‘the wunderlumpe.’”9 Daniel’s explication of this malady both recapitulates and diverges from the account of his source. Like Aristotle, Daniel asserts that all the usual signs of pregnancy, such as the increased size of the womb, are also shown in the body of a woman carrying a wunderlumpe. Daniel also states that a wunderlumpe can be the product of sexual intercourse, as Aristotle had too asserted. Unlike his source, however, Daniel explains in more specific detail the conditions through which a wunderlumpe can be created. First, he states that the wunderlumpe can be generated when the woman does not emit seed at the same time as the man during intercourse. Second, and more significantly, Daniel explains that a wunderlumpe can be the product of sexual intercourse involving both the female and male seed. A wunderlumpe can be created, he argues, when conception does in fact occur, but the woman is driven (by her husband, presumably) to such sorrow or anger that she loses her disposition, causing “it,” the wunderlumpe, to be “disposyd to” (2.14.64v). In either case, a wunderlumpe may grow inside women’s bodies, “and thanne thei wexin grete as thei wern with childe, and many wenyn it werin so” (2.14.64v). Daniel thus connects himself to and extends the existing medical tradition by transmitting the idea that a mole or, in English, a wunderlumpe, is not quite a botched birth. He amplifies this tradition, moreover, by arguing that conception might have occurred initially but a fetus was never actually formed. Women who generate a “frustrum monstruosum,” a wunderlumpe, are never truly pregnant with a growing, living body. [End Page 446]
Daniel’s translation of “frustrum monstruosum” merits detailed analysis—his vernacular rendering of this Latin phrase assigns a wondrous significance to an inanimate thing. The literal translation of “frustrum monstruosum”—that is, “frustum monstruosum,” as Daniel had likely intended—is a “monstrous piece” or a “monstrous bit.”10 Rather than providing this literal meaning, however, Daniel teaches his readers that the inanimate lump that can sometimes be born of a woman is a sign of wonder.11 Daniel develops this element of wonder by explicitly evoking the supernatural quality of this kind of fleshly lump. In addition to calling the gob of flesh a wunderlumpe, Daniel also claims that it is “callyn the elvysch kechil or the elvysch cake” (2.14.60v). “Elf” can, in Middle English, refer to a growth in or on the body, and so a mole may certainly have been called elvysch in the fourteenth century. The earliest noted uses of the phrase “elf cake” and “elf kechel” in the Middle English Dictionary, however, are recorded as “euyll cake” (which looks suspiciously like “evil cake”) and “vluekecche,” respectively, both from medical recipe books written ca. 1450. Both citations seem to acknowledge the elvysch cake as a medical concept, but in neither text is it entirely clear whether or not the precise phrase is actually used. The Oxford English Dictionary dates the phrase “elf-cake” to the sixteenth century, defining it as a bodily growth caused by elves.12 Writing nearly one hundred years prior to the composition of these medical recipe books and two hundred prior to this sixteenth-century text, Daniel may be the first to write this phrase down in English. For Daniel, moreover, the elvysch cake is synonymous with wunderlumpe and thus has meaning beyond that provided by the MED of a bodily mass. If this wunderlumpe is elvysch, it is elvysch not just because it takes the form of a bodily growth but because—like an elf—it is supernatural, capable of inspiring wonder. More elf-like than human-like, this kind of flesh is not just a small mass but specifically an elvysch mass, and as such, it transcends signification in the natural world. [End Page 447]
Daniel’s use of the term elvysch verifies that a wunderlumpe is beyond earthly signification, representing not only the strange but also the supernatural. This argument is supported by the lexicographic work of Richard Firth Green, who has persuasively argued that when Chaucer uses the term elvysch in the Thopas prologue and The Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale (CYT), the poet really does mean “elf-like.”13 This distinction between vaguely strange and specifically elf-like, as Green demonstrates and Elizabeth Robertson affirms, indicates that elvysch-ness is also associated with transformation. The most obvious resemblance between the discourse of fairyland and the discourse of alchemy in CYT, Green argues, “is, of course, their concern with transformation.”14 Alchemy is, after all, a craft whose entire purpose is to transform base metals into the more valuable material of gold. It is thus an elvysch craft, in Chaucer’s terms, for its concern with transformation that tries to exceed the norms of the natural world. This extension beyond the natural is equally manifested in alchemy’s elvysch vocabulary. As Lee Patterson argues, Chaucer’s use of elvyssh in CYT shows that, to convey his meaning, the poet must adopt a specialist vocabulary that exceeds conventional poetic diction.15 Like Chaucer’s discourse of alchemy, Daniel’s discourse of the wunderlumpe is elvysch because it, too, transcends expression in the language of the natural world and interpretation by the usual laws of nature. Although a wunderlumpe might have been generated by the natural process of conception, it no longer registers in ordinary, natural discourse once it gains a physical presence outside of the womb.
When Henry Daniel, Chaucer’s contemporary, uses the term elvysch to describe a bodily mass, his appeal to the supernatural is doubly transformative. On one hand, the elvysch cake originated naturally and transformed into a supernatural lump; on the other hand, Daniel’s appeal to the supernatural itself occurs in a transformative process. He claims, after all, to be here engaged in an act of translation, transforming the Latin “frustrum [End Page 448] monstruosum” into English. Daniel’s vernacular rendering of this bodily mass appends, in turn, a supernatural element: it is not a strange piece of flesh but a wunderlumpe, an elvysch cake. Daniel thus employs the term elvysch not only in an act of signification, indicating that what he calls a wunderlumpe is indeed a bodily lump that inspires wonder, but also in an act of translation, introducing the new terms elvysch cake and wunderlumpe into the English language as a means to define the concept of the mola. In doing so, Daniel parallels the Chaucerian expression of elvysch both by referring explicitly to the supernatural and by creating a vocabulary that exceeds ordinary language. Like Daniel’s wunderlumpe, the misforschapen þing of The King of Tars eludes discursive classification. Their elusive statuses are registered by the hapax legomena used to describe them: the words wunderlumpe and misforschapen are extant only in the Liber Uricrisiarum and The King of Tars, respectively.16 Both texts thus reach beyond ordinary language to describe a lump that, in turn, evades discursive, religious, and cultural classification.
The resistance of the misforschapen þing to easy categorization is emblematic of the poem as a whole. In typical medieval romance fashion, the poem approaches, only to swerve away from, existing generic patterns.17 The poem at first seems to participate in the Constance tradition—a tradition to which Chaucer and Gower later contributed and which describes sultans who, hearing rumors of Constance’s beauty, become overwhelmed with desire to possess her. Similarly, in The King of Tars a Saracen Sultan hears news of a Christian Princess’s unparalleled beauty and seeks her hand in marriage.18 Soon after the Sultan marries the object of his desire, the ill-fitted pair conceives. When the time comes for the child to be born, however, “as a rond of flesche yschore / In chaumber it lay hem bifore / Wiþouten blod & bon” (ll. 580–82). In the place of a fully-formed, living child is a lump of flesh that appears to be “ded as þe ston” (l. 585). The poem here ceases to resemble a Constance narrative and, in presenting the monstrous potential of interfaith marriage, instead verges into a tradition [End Page 449] of folklore.19 The lump of flesh resembles numerous other monstrous births from medieval literature, including folklore, as Lillian Herlands Hornstein asserts in her foundational research on the poem in its historical and literary contexts. In these other narratives, Hornstein explains, a woman will give birth to a spotted child, a hairy child, or an animal; The King of Tars is unique in its representation of a lifeless lump of flesh.20 This distinctive image is thus where the poem both positions itself in relation to and swerves away from traditional narratives found in medieval folklore. Folklore is, like romance, a tradition that includes numerous seemingly separate genres, such as fable, myth, legend, religious narrative, magical tale, and jest.21 The King of Tars participates in this culture of shared literary elements, then, not simply by virtue of its classification as a romance, but also in evoking the folkloric tradition with the lump of flesh. In evoking the latter tradition, the poem necessarily evokes multiple other literary discourses embedded within it. The practice of blending discourses evinced by The King of Tars is also shared by Henry Daniel in the Liber Uricrisiarum. As Daniel’s treatise evokes a discourse other than the purely medical to identify and describe the wunderlumpe, The King of Tars evokes literary discourses other than the romantic to identify and describe the birth and metamorphosis of the misforschapen þing. In the subsequent section, I develop this notion of intersecting discourses by demonstrating that the vocabulary shared by the poem and medieval medicine is, specifically, a vocabulary of blood.
II. MEDICAL DISCOURSES OF BLOOD IN THE KING OF TARS
When the Christian Princess gives birth to the lifeless lump of flesh, neither she nor the Saracen Sultan of Damascus wants to claim generative [End Page 450] responsibility for it. This biological accountability is figured in the poem as inextricable from the Sultan’s and the Princess’s spiritual identities. Upon first seeing that the child he had expected is in fact a lifeless lump of flesh, the Sultan exclaims to his wife:
OƷain mi godes þou art forsworn,Wiþ riƷt resoun y preue:Ϸe childe þat is here of þe bornBoþe lim & liþ it is forlornAlle þurth þi fals bileue.(ll. 590–94)
The Princess retorts: “Ϸe child was yeten bitven ous to; / For þi bileue it farþ so” (ll. 604–5). While the Sultan, first, refers to the lump as having been born “of þe,” the Princess subsequently insists that the lump was “yeten bitven ous to.” For Siobhain Bly Calkin and Geraldine Heng, these attempts to assign blame for the formlessness of the lump demonstrate the idea that religion can “shape and instruct” biology.22 Indeed, for the Sultan the lump’s formlessness is visible proof that his wife has not, in fact, renounced Christianity as she had promised; for her part, the Princess maintains that the lump’s formlessness has instead been caused by her husband’s lack of knowledge of Christ. From the divergent perspectives of the Sultan and the Princess, the formless progeny is created, respectively, by the presence of Christianity and by the absence of Christianity.
For scholars who have discussed the lump’s formlessness, namely Jane Gilbert and Suzanne Conklin Akbari, the biological failure to produce a properly formed child and the discourse surrounding this failure draw upon the Aristotelian theory of generation. In this theory, the mother provides the matter and the father provides the form of the fetus.23 Although the Sultan blames his wife’s Christianity for the biological monstrosity born of her, the Princess makes it clear that the fault is actually his after the lump miraculously metamorphoses into a real boy. When the Sultan tells his wife that he is “glad afin” (l. 806) to see the lump thus enlivened, the Princess responds: “Ʒa, sir, bi seyn Martin, / Ʒif þe haluendel wer þin / Wel glad miyt þou be” (ll. 808–10). She initially understands conception as shared between herself and the Sultan; once the lump is baptized, however, that understanding shifts toward one that excludes the Sultan’s influence altogether. The poem ultimately bears out this [End Page 451] latter understanding—the lump’s miraculous metamorphosis shows that it previously lacked form because the Sultan had failed to provide it.
Both the Princess and the Sultan seek to remedy this lack of form, asking their gods to make the lump “fourmed after a man” (ll. 614, 668, 692). The vocabulary the poem employs to explain the concept of form is more precise than previous critics have acknowledged. Like its variation of what Daniel would call a wunderlumpe, the poem’s language of form and formlessness also has a medical valence. When the lump is born, we learn that the women attending the Princess are “Wel sori” (l. 578) because “lim no hadde it non. / Bot as a rond of flesche yschore / In chaumber it lay hem bifore / Wiþouten blod & bon” (ll. 579–82). The Princess, too, is full of sorrow, for her child “hadde noiþer nose no eye, / Bot lay ded as þe ston” (ll. 584–85). Lacking limbs, eyes, nose, blood, and bone, the lump is not “fourmed after a man.” Form here seems to consist of both outer and inner qualities: it comprises both the external characteristics of the face and limbs and the internal features of blood and bone. The lump’s body, if it can be so called, is both undeveloped and unanimated. These external and internal conditions, however, are not comparably influential: rather, the external is dictated by the internal.
These discourses of form and formlessness, of internal and external features, are shaped by the role of blood in generation. Conception was, in the medieval period, theorized as a mingling of bloods since semen was considered to be blood in its most purified state.24 Generation was thus believed to be contingent on the successful mixture of male and female blood inside the woman’s body. The discourse of form and formlessness discussed by Gilbert is thus also, I argue, a discourse of animation and of blood. Indeed, the poem cultivates and complicates its vocabulary of blood with the creation of the formless lump: the failure to give form to the Princess’s matter during conception is a failure not of the Sultan in general but of his blood in particular.
This influence of blood on outer appearance is first manifested on the body of the Princess. The Princess is described as having skin that is “white as feþer of swan” (l. 12). For Heng, this brilliant whiteness marks the Princess as distinctly “European” and thus Christian, as opposed to “Oriental” and thus Saracen.25 Her analysis of what she calls “race-religion” in the poem is based, in part, on the physical transformation that the Princess does not undergo: although she appears to be a Saracen once [End Page 452] she learns how properly to praise her husband’s idols, the Princess’s skin remains as white as a swan’s feather. This nontransformation, Heng contends, is the only evidence the reader is given to believe in the Princess’s sustained Christianity.26 Although her conflation of “European,” “white,” and “Christian” is not in keeping with medieval ideas of nationhood and identity, or indeed with the poem’s depiction of the Christian Princess, Heng is right to point out that the Princess’s skin does not change color when she learns, and claims to accept, her husband’s Saracen lore. But Heng’s analysis overlooks another moment in the poem at which the Princess’s physical appearance does change: when the lump is “geten sche chaunged ble; / þe soudan himself þat gan se” (ll. 568–69). She changes “ble”—skin color, complexion—through sexual intercourse when the lump is conceived. This alteration may at first appear to signify that the Princess’s passions (i.e., her blood) flow to her cheeks in a display of bashfulness. In the first depiction of her outward appearance, however, we are told that her brilliant whiteness is complemented “Wiþ rode red so blosme on brere” (l. 14). Her cheeks are already as red as briar blossoms, and it is thus this rosy ble that is altered when she conceives. Rather than a simple blush, her changed ble signifies a much deeper change, tied specifically to her pregnancy.
If the Princess’s skin had turned from white to black, however, the poem would most certainly have made this change explicit. The marvellous metamorphosis of the Sultan after his conversion is, after all, portrayed as a change from “blac & loþely” (l. 928) to “Al white,” (l. 929) “& clere wiþouten blame” (l. 930). The reverse does not happen to the Princess; her skin is never described as black. This reversal does not occur on the Princess’s skin because, unlike the Sultan, she does not convert. Her outward change is caused, instead, through the mixing of blood that occurred during intercourse with her husband. The emergence of the Sultan’s blood within the Princess’s body causes a change in her skin color, as her changed inner features influence her outer appearance. The Sultan’s blood effects a notable change on the Princess’s outer body, and it has a foul influence on her internal features, her blood. His blood cannot provide proper form to her matter, and his failure results in her facial change and the generative anomaly attendant on it: the generation of a bloodless lump of flesche.
The connection between biology and religion finds its lexical and physical corollary in the formless flesche; the medical valence of this flesche is helpfully elucidated by Henry Daniel in his Liber Uricrisiarum. While the complexion of flesh differs in various parts of the body, its typical, overall [End Page 453] complexion, Daniel explains, is cold and moist. This usual complexion notwithstanding, Daniel suggests that his readers should still consider the general complexion of the person to determine accurately the specific complexion of the flesh (2.41.105r). For Daniel, and medieval medical discourse more broadly, the inner flesh and outer body are thus mutually influencing qualities: a person’s body is composed of various kinds of flesh, but the outer body can itself help determine the particular nature of that inner material. For the Princess and the lump in The King of Tars, by contrast, the external body is dictated by its inner features. For the formless flesche in particular, the kind of mutually influential relationship between inside and outside explained by Daniel is impossible since its entire being is just the inner “flesche yschore.” It is thus impossible, in turn, to determine the specific nature of the lifeless lump; it has no outer shell, no bodily form, to help give definition to its inner features.
After explaining this relationship between flesh and the body in general, Daniel states that flesh is white in color. It seems red to us, he explains, because blood is dispersed throughout pores in the flesh (3.20.164r). Blood also exists before flesh is formed: Daniel outlines the Augustinian theory of embryology, in which the waxing fetus, first, is “lyk swete mylk cruddyd; 9 days after that it is blood; than 12 after it is flesch withowte bon and forme, i.e. 18 after it taketh forme and bon and membris and lemys” (3.18.158r). Daniel’s explanations of blood and Augustinian embryology illuminate two crucial aspects of flesh. First, blood is important to the body because it makes flesh recognizable as flesh. And second, flesh cannot even be formed without the previous existence of blood. For the lump of flesche in The King of Tars to be without either outer form or blood thus positions it as an indecipherable piece of flesche that transcends not only cultural but also medical categorization.27 As a bloodless piece of flesche, the lump is more than unanimated flesche: it is unreadable flesche.
The widespread use of the term flesche in The King of Tars thus goes beyond the medical discourse with which the poem is coterminous: if the word flesche evokes a medical discourse with a precise bodily meaning, the poem’s use of this word ultimately transcends the kind of categorization that medical discourse affords. As an unclassifiable piece of flesche, the formless lump is biologically unreadable. Just as the wunderlumpe transcends medical discourse in Daniel’s treatise, the formless, bloodless flesche of the poem exceeds biological categorization. This physical indeterminacy is framed not only in medical but also in spiritual terms. Specifically, [End Page 454] when the Sultan submits to the Princess’s request that she have a turn testing the healing power of her God, he agrees only out of sorrow for the “selcouþe siƷt” (l. 687) of the lump. Selcouþe can mean marvellous or miraculous and, at the same time, unusual or monstrous.28 This kind of flesche, in Daniel’s treatise, was rendered monstrous in Latin and wondrous in English; here, the Sultan positions his “litel faunt” as both monstrous and wondrous at once. Unlike the explicitly pagan term elvysch, however, the term selcouþe has clear religious implications. Although it appears “yschore,” evoking pity and fear in those who look on it, the flesche is also a wondrous marvel even before the transformative miracle occurs. The connection between religion and biology noted previously by scholars is thus less a matter of cause-and-effect, or of religion determining biology; instead, this connection is more a matter of religion finding its physical corollary in the body. The flesche is simultaneously both physically and spiritually wondrous.
When the lump holds this status as both physically and spiritually marvellous, it is also bloodless. If the poem indeed establishes its connection between biology and religion through a specific vocabulary of blood, it would thus seem as if that vocabulary is here abandoned. In a lexical and symbolic system that associates biology with religion through blood, a bloodless object could not be granted this latter, spiritual significance. The flesche is only elevated to this additional level of signification, however, by the Sultan. It is the Sultan alone who looks on the flesche as a “selcouþe siƷt.” The physical and spiritual status of the bloodless flesche, as opposed to indicating the poem’s relinquishment of its precise vocabulary, reveals instead an extension of the Sultan’s paternal failure. The Sultan, initially, fails to provide proper form to the Princess’s matter. He then fails to assign appropriate significance to the formless flesche they create. Like his initial failure, moreover, the Sultan’s additional misinterpretation is also one of blood. He cannot see that this bloodless thing cannot be selcouþe; without blood, the formless flesche cannot hold the spiritual significance that the Sultan sees in it. Unlike the Princess, who has a dream that is “selcouþe to rede”—that is, a dream that exceeds her interpretive capacity—the Sultan misinterprets the flesche as selcouþe. This inability fully to understand the signification of the lump has been noted by scholars as a failure to see that the flesche is not a child. The problem with the Sultan’s reading of the flesche, however, is not that he calls it a child, but rather that he sees it as a marvel.
The Sultan’s misidentification of the flesche has clear religious implications; after all, he positions as marvellous something that is in fact “ded [End Page 455] as þe ston.” By seeing this lifeless flesche as spiritually wondrous, the Sultan sets it as an idol. The Sultan’s interpretation of the bloodless flesche reflects the poem’s characterization of Saracen lack: both the Sultan’s inability to provide form to the flesche and his inability to recognize the existence of Christ are described as failings and absences of blood. In a Christian symbolic discourse, blood accounts for both fleshly reality and spiritual being. Such a symbolic discourse, the poem suggests, is absent from Saracen lore. The fundamental characteristic of a Saracen here is the worship of inanimate idols. The first act that the Sultan demands of the Princess after she promises to renounce Christianity, for example, is that she kiss “Alle þine godes on rawe” (l. 498). After performing this task, the Princess learns the Saracen lore only to give further praise to her newly accepted gods. When she feigns belief, moreover, the Princess is surprisingly convincing: “þe soudan wende niƷt & day / þat sche hadde leued opon his lay” (ll. 511–12). All that is required in order to appear to be Saracen is to speak praise to idols “openliche” (l. 506).29 The inner parts of the Princess (her mind, flesh, blood, and spirit), we are assured, remain devoutly Christian: although the Sultan thinks she has converted, “al he was bicouƷt. / For when sche was bi herselue on / To Ihesu sche made hir mon” (ll. 513–15). The Princess’s Christian identity remains a secret because that faith is internal. The Saracen “lay” that the Princess simulates outwardly, in contrast to the Christian law she keeps inwardly, lacks the symbolic discourse in which blood contains both fleshly and spiritual being. Within the poem’s theological framework, thus, to be Saracen is to see only the most superficial of outward signs and to fail to see anything on the inside—what matters is only what is done “openliche.” The empty, inanimate idols of Saracen worship are emblematic of the body of the Sultan himself: he fails to recognize his own inner composition, his flesh and blood.
III. RELIGIOUS DISCOURSES OF BLOOD
By depicting Saracens as lacking awareness of the spiritual significance of blood, The King of Tars participates in an existing symbolic tradition, a tradition that is prominent in Middle English religious literature. Chaucer’s St. Cecilia of The Second Nun’s Tale and the Katherine Group’s Saint [End Page 456] Margaret, for example, both chastise their Saracen counterparts for worshipping bloodless objects.30 These Roman Saracens are characterized in the same way as the Sultan—through lack, both of Christian revelation and of knowledge of the physical and symbolic significance of blood. Despite its connection to this tradition, however, The King of Tars distinguishes itself by broadening its vocabulary of blood to incorporate the Christian conversion of a Saracen. When the Sultan beholds his metamorphosed child and asks the Princess to teach him Christian law, she explains that he must, first, believe that God is the Trinity. Specifically, the Sultan must believe that Jesus “nam flesche &bl[o]d” (l. 847) from Mary’s body. The Sultan must accept, additionally, that three days after he was killed on the cross, Jesus rose from the dead and subsequently ascended into heaven “Boþe wiþ flesche &blod” (l. 858). Finally, the Princess concludes, he must believe that Jesus will come to earth again and “Schewe his blodi woundes fiue, / þat he for ous gan fond” (ll. 869–70). Blood thus characterizes the belief system that the Sultan must adopt: the Princess defines Christian law as a belief both in the generative and nutritive blood of Mary, and in the truth of Christ’s physical blood and the spiritual comfort of his bloody wounds. In short, the Christian law demands a focus on flesh and blood.
This Christian doctrine is evinced when the formless flesche receives its animating blood. As Gilbert has demonstrated, the lump miraculously comes to life through baptism because it receives the form that it previously lacked from its new Father.31 In other words, God does what the Sultan has failed to do by providing paternal form. For the lump, now alive and named Jon, Christianity pours life into his body in the form of blood. In her recent study of baptism in The King of Tars, Calkin also contends that the baptism depicted in the poem demands a focus on physicality in addition to spirituality.32 To this argument, I would add that the poem’s religious miracle is expressed both in spiritual and medical terms. Using the word flesche in a way that both adopts and also develops its medical usage is not the only means through which the poem shares a discourse with medical writing. This discourse is also evinced by the role of blood [End Page 457] to animate the body both physically and spiritually. Henry Daniel defines blood as a life fluid in more than one way. Specifically, Daniel explains that blood, on one hand, transforms into semen and breast milk to generate and nourish the fetus, providing physical life. On the other hand, blood flows throughout the body via the arteries, which begin at the heart and also draw in air and “spiritus.” Combined with the spiritus in the arteries, blood moves the soul (2.1.33r; 2.7.45v). When Daniel declares that the state of “lyf prinspally” is dictated by “the helthe of the blood,” “lyf” thus includes a person’s physical and spiritual existence (2.1.33v). For the lump in The King of Tars, likewise, blood is the nexus of physical and spiritual life: the Christian ritual of baptism pours religious life into its body. This symbolic life, moreover, is given a physical manifestation in the blood that now animates the beautiful baby Jon.
The relationship between religion and biology described by Heng and Calkin, in which religion shapes biology, is here both supported and complicated.33 While the Sultan’s interpretation of the bloodless lump was incorrect in the poem’s theological framework, the underlying idea that the lump had a simultaneous physical and spiritual significance is ultimately warranted by the depiction of the newly metamorphosed Jon. Although this dual significance could not be assigned to the bloodless flesche, the miraculous metamorphosis from bloodless lump to living Jon illustrates that biology determines religion at the same time that religion determines biology. Just as Daniel explains that the inner material of flesh influences the overall body even as the overall body influences the inner flesh, the miracle of Jon’s metamorphosis shows that religion and biology equally comprise and influence blood and life.
If Jon’s metamorphosis displays the connection between religion and biology by illuminating the role of blood in generating and sustaining Christian life, the Sultan’s metamorphosis confirms that connection by revealing the role of blood in distinguishing Saracens from Christians. Specifically, believing in Christianity, a faith that is expressed through a vocabulary of blood, gives that faith a physical manifestation in the Sultan’s own blood as his skin becomes white. His conversion, after all, is the only way that the Sultan can claim Jon as “part” of him. Until he converts, the Princess insists, not even “haluendel” (l. 809) of the child is his. By accepting the Christian faith, the Sultan not only believes in the spiritual value of blood but also receives new Christian life in his own blood; his newly animated blood, in turn, affirms his newly acquired generative capacity, as he can now claim his paternal role. Christian conversion is thus figured as a physical, biological metamorphosis that occurs both in and [End Page 458] on the body. The Sultan’s outer transformation, Heng and Lampert have argued, makes religion a matter of race.34 This critical shift toward the Sultan’s simultaneous inner and outer metamorphoses participates in a similar discourse not of racial identity, I argue, but of bodily and spiritual identity. Specifically, this dual focus shows that the Sultan’s earlier blackness was an external manifestation of his inner corruption. In his work on medieval physiognomies, Joseph Ziegler has referred to the skin as “a surface on which the inside revealed itself.” Blood, Ziegler continues, is the means through which “the inside” can reveal itself on the skin. The color of the body was considered a reflection of the inner blood on one hand and an indication of an individual’s characteristics on the other.35 The Sultan’s outer blackness was “loþely” not only because it indicated that he was spiritually immoral but also because it signified an internal lack. The Sultan was, like Jon, a formless being before he experienced Christian revelation. Both father and son receive their proper form through conversion, becoming identifiable as Christians in flesh and blood.36
Giving Christianity a physical locus in the blood is indeed an idea that registers in medieval literary, medical, and religious discourse. The vocabulary of blood in The King of Tars is thus shared not only by medical writers like Henry Daniel but by religious writers as well. In a sense, this is the most obvious point to make about the religious significance of blood. After all, it is still standard practice in many sects of Christianity to eat [End Page 459] and drink the flesh and blood of Christ every week. Practicing Christians express their belief in the flesh and blood of Christ by filling themselves with that flesh and blood, receiving material to animate their bodies both physically and spiritually. The miraculous metamorphoses of Jon and Cleopas thus appear to be literary retellings of the Christian sacrament of the Eucharist. Such a retelling would be thoroughly in keeping with other medieval literary traditions, such as host desecration stories, in which the Eucharist is tortured and bleeds. As James J. Megivern has shown in his table charting the extant records of such stories from the tenth through seventeenth centuries, the fourteenth century saw a particular abundance of bleeding host stories.37 This literary trend also registers in medieval Christian practice. As Miri Rubin and Eamon Duffy have demonstrated in their seminal works on the history of Eucharistic symbolism, the sight and consumption of the Eucharist was a constant reminder of Christ’s real flesh and blood and was, as such, central to a medieval Christian notion of existing with God. Specifically, the blood of Christ united the human soul with God.38 After all, in Sermon 227 Augustine, interpreting Paul’s explanation of the sacrament of the Eucharist, relates, “Si bene accepistis, vos estis quod accepistis” (If you receive them [the body and blood of Christ] well, you are yourselves what you have received).39 Receiving Christ enabled Christians to be physically and spiritually united with God. The Christian doctrine of concomitance, moreover, served to remind practicing Christians that Christ’s blood flowed in the Host.40 Eucharistic [End Page 460] symbolism is thus not separate from, but an integral component of, the Christian symbolic discourse of blood. If the metamorphoses of Jon and Cleopas in The King of Tars evoke Eucharistic symbolism, this symbolism is evoked as a means to display the role of blood to create and sustain the physical and spiritual life of Christians. Jon and Cleopas become what they receive when they receive Christian revelation and are granted, in turn, physical and spiritual form.
Imagining the Christian soul as located physically in the blood is a convention of medieval devotional and preaching language, as Caroline Walker Bynum explains in her study of blood and Christianity in late medieval Germany. Bynum argues that for Christian writers in the Middle Ages, the soul could not have a physical location because it was considered nonmaterial; instead, it would have to be present in every part of the body. Despite this conceptualization, Bynum continues, much devotional and preaching language from the High Middle Ages suggests either that blood carries the seat of life or that blood is itself the seat of life. She names Thomas Aquinas, Saint Bonaventure, Robert Grosseteste, and Gabriel Biel as some examples of medieval Christian (and, in the case of Grosseteste, scientific) writers who held this idea. These four writers, Bynum states, all cite as the basis for their contention Leviticus 17:11: “anima carnis in sanguine est” (the life of the flesh is in the blood). In addition to following a Christian example, they also base their idea of blood on medical authorities such as Albertus Magnus and Aristotle.41 In order to explain the significance of blood to Christianity, these writers draw on both religious and medical material. This combination of religious and medical influences can, in turn, shed light on the vocabulary of blood in The King of Tars. More than representing the sacrament of the Eucharist in miracles of blood, The King of Tars participates in a discourse shared by religious and medical authorities. In this discourse, blood is the nexus not only of physical and spiritual life but also of religious and medical language.
This conceptualization of blood as the link between two kinds of life and two types of languages can be productively shown through an examination of Henry Daniel and his treatise, for he engages in a simultaneously medical and religious discourse of blood. In addition to transcending medical discourse in his discussion of the elvysch cake, Daniel also avers, as I explained above, that blood is “the stat of lyf prinspally,” and “lyf” for Daniel is both physical and spiritual since the blood moves and affects the soul.42 If, as Bynum explains, devotional language in the Middle Ages [End Page 461] looked both to scripture and science to explain the significance of blood to Christianity, Daniel’s treatise demonstrates that a combination of scientific and religious material comprises his conceptualization of blood in the Christian body. In demonstrating this confluence of discourses, Daniel both represents a wider tradition of learned writing and renders that tra dition in a new, vernacular medium. Blood, Daniel and earlier Latin writers suggest, did not belong exclusively to religious or medical writing in the Middle Ages; instead, its significance to the Christian body is explained in an overlapping medical and religious discourse. The vocabulary that The King of Tars shares with the medical tradition elucidated by Daniel is thus a vocabulary that is already part of a collective language. The poem does not appropriate a medical discourse into a religious context by employing a vocabulary of blood to explain Jon and Cleopas’s physical and religious metamorphoses; rather, it expands an intersecting medical and religious vocabulary by presenting the symbolic valences of animating blood. [End Page 462]
1. This and all subsequent quotations are from The King of Tars: Edited from the Auchinleck MS, Advocates 19.2.1, ed. Judith Perryman, Middle English Texts, 12 (Heidelberg: Carl Winter, 1980); hereafter cited parenthetically by line number.
2. This and all subsequent quotations of Trevisa are from On the Properties of Things: John Trevisa’s Translation of Bartholomaeus Anglicus De Proprietatibus Rerum: A Critical Text, ed. M. C. Seymour et al., 3 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975–88), bk. 4, p. 129. Hereafter cited parenthetically by book and page number.
3. For analyses of religious representation in The King of Tars, see Siobhain Bly Calkin, Saracens and the Making of English Identity: The Auchinleck Manuscript, Studies in Medieval History and Culture (New York: Routledge, 2005), pp. 97–132; and Suzanne Conklin Akbari, “The Saracen Body,” in Idols in the East: European Representations of Islam and the Orient, 1100–1450 (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 2009), pp. 155–99, esp. pp. 189–99.
4. Jane Gilbert, “Putting the Pulp into Fiction: the Lump-Child and Its Parents in The King of Tars,” in Pulp Fictions of Medieval England: Essays in Popular Romance, ed. Nicola McDonald (Manchester: Manchester Univ. Press, 2004), pp. 102–23. I engage with her analysis in more detail in Section III.
5. This article is meant to supplement the current interest in bringing Daniel and his works to light. See, for example, Jake Walsh Morrissey, “Anxious Love and Disordered Urine: The Englishing of ‘Amor Hereos’ in Henry Daniel’s Liber Uricrisiarum,” Chaucer Review, 49 (2014), 161–83.
6. See Women’s Secrets: A Translation of Pseudo-Albertus Magnus’s De Secretis Mulierum with Commentaries, trans. Helen Rodnite Lemay (Albany: State Univ. of New York Press, 1992), pp. 63–78 and pp. 132–36. See also Soranus of Ephesus, “Whether Women have Conditions Peculiarly their Own: On the Mole,” in Gynaecology, trans. Oswei Temkin (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1991), pp. 158–61. I focus on Aristotle since his work circulated in England and Daniel gives it as a source, but the mola are also part of a flourishing gynaecological tradition, as evinced by their treatment in the works of Pseudo-Albertus and Soranus.
7. See Aristotle, Generation of the Animals, trans. A. L. Peck, Loeb Classical Library, 366 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1953), pp. 465–67.
8. See M. Teresa Tavormina, “Uroscopy in Middle English: A Guide to the Texts and Manuscripts,” Studies in Medieval and Renaissance History, 3d ser., 11 (2014), 1–154.
9. Henry Daniel, Liber Uricrisiarum (bk. 2, ch. 14, f. 64v), transcribed from British Library, MS Sloane 1101, by E. Ruth Harvey (2011, unpublished), hereafter cited parenthetically by book, chapter, and folio number. There is currently one edition of Daniel’s treatise: a PhD dissertation by Joanne Jasin (Tulane Univ., 1993), based on one manuscript. Interested readers may wish to consult Ralph Hanna III, “Henry Daniel’s Liber Uricrisiarum, Book I, Chapters 1–3,” in Popular and Practical Science of Medieval England, ed. Lister M. Matheson (East Lansing, MI: Colleagues Press, 1994), pp. 185–218. As his title indicates, Hanna provides a partial edition of Daniel’s text, including only the first three chapters of Book 1. In her unpublished transcription of the full text from MS Sloane 1101, Harvey consulted all thirty-seven extant manuscripts and included insertions from five of them, thus offering the most comprehensive account of Daniel’s material. Harvey and the present author are currently involved with the Henry Daniel Project, a team of researchers editing London, British Library, MS Royal 17.D.1 for what will be the first edition of Daniel’s text. I am extremely grateful to Professor Harvey for sharing her transcription with me, without which this article would not be possible.
10. Daniel’s “frustrum” is likely a scribal error caused by the confusion of minims.
11. See Lorraine Daston and Katherine Park, Wonders and the Order of Nature, 1150–1750 (New York: Zone Books, 1998). According to these scholars, objects of wonder and wondrous passions marked the limits of both the natural and the known in premodern Europe. To be sure, their trajectory of changing notions of wonder from the High Middle Ages to the Enlightenment involves inaccurate historical assumptions. Nevertheless, I share their idea that an object of wonder marked the boundary between what is known and unknown in the European premodern world.
12. Middle English Dictionary, 20 vols., ed. Hans Kurath, S. M. Kuhn, and R. E. Lewis (Ann Arbor, MI: Univ. of Michigan Press, 1953–2001), s.v. “cake,” 3b; “elve(n),” 2b. See also Oxford English Dictionary, ed. John A. Simpson and Edmund Weiner, 2d ed. (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1989), s.v. “elf-cake”: “an enlargement of the spleen, attributed to the agency of elves”; as illustrated by Thomas Lupton, A Thousand Notable Things, of Sundry Sortes (1579): “The hardnes of the syde, called the Elfe cake.”
13. See Richard Firth Green, “Changing Chaucer,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer, 25 (2003), 25–52, esp. 28–29. Green consults nine editions of Chaucer’s works, as well as the MED and Oxford Chaucer Glossary, concluding that the word “elvish” is glossed by editors as “mysterious” thirteen times and “strange” eight times, but only “once (correctly, if redundantly)” as “elvish.”
14. Green, “Changing Chaucer,” pp. 41–42. For Robertson, the “elvyssh” power of Chaucer’s Constance is both her ineffability and her power to convert others without violence, transforming them from one kind of person to another. See “The ‘Elvyssh’ Power of Constance: Christian Feminism in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Man of Law’s Tale,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer, 23 (2001), 143–80. See also J. A. Burrow, “Elvish Chaucer,” in The Endless Knot: Essays in Old and Middle English in Honour of Marie Boroff, ed. M. Teresa Tavormina and R. F. Yeager (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1995), pp. 105–11.
15. Lee Patterson, “Perpetual Motion: Alchemy and the Technology of the Self,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer, 15 (1993), 25–57.
16. MED, s.v. “misforshapen”: “misshapen, deformed,” with the sole citation from The King of Tars: “Þe child ded born was, A mis-forschapen þing” (l. 972).
17. Dieter Mehl categorizes the poem as a homiletic romance. See “Homiletic Romances: The King of Tars,” in The Middle English Romances of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968), pp. 122–24. For Mehl’s methodological framework, see “The Problem of Classification” in the same volume, pp. 30–39. I elucidate some other problems of classification.
18. The resemblance of The King of Tars to the Constance tradition was first observed by Margaret Schlauch in Chaucer’s Constance and Accused Queens (New York: New York Univ. Press, 1927), p. 125, n.14, and has been noted most recently by Geraldine Heng, “Beauty and the East, a Modern Love Story: Women, Children, and Imagined Communities in The Man of Law’s Tale and Its Others,” in Empire of Magic: Medieval Romance and the Politics of Cultural Fantasy (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 2007), pp. 181–238.
19. Interestingly, in Chaucer’s Man of Law’s Tale, Donegild writes in her counterfeit letter that Constance delivered a “feendly creature” (The Riverside Chaucer, gen. ed. Larry D. Benson [Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987], l. 751). Donegild herself is also called an “elf” (l. 754, glossed as “evil spirit”) by the narrator. One could argue, then, that The Man of Law’s Tale also swerves into folktale at this moment. It does not, however, actually contain the same physical phenomena seen in The King of Tars.
20. Lillian Herlands Hornstein, “New Analogues to the King of Tars,” Modern Language Review, 36 (1941), 433–42; and Hornstein, “A Folklore Theme in the King of Tars,” Philological Quarterly, 20 (1941), 82–87.
21. See the Introduction to A Guide to Folktales in the English Language (New York: Greenwood Press, 1987), pp. x–xii, in which D. L. Ashliman outlines the various “kinds” of folktales originally posited by Antti Aarne and translated and developed by Stith Thompson in The Types of Folktale, a Classification and Bibliography. Antti Aarne’s Verzeichnnis der Märchentypen, 2d rev. ed. (Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, 1961). For a more recent account of folk practices in medieval literature and culture, see Corinne Saunders, Magic and the Supernatural in Medieval Romance (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2010), pp. 87–99.
22. This point is made by Heng in “Beauty and the East,” p. 228. For an account of the relationship between religion and biology that focuses more on religion as faith than religion as “race,” see Calkin, Saracens and the Making of English Identity, pp. 122–28.
23. Gilbert, “Putting the Pulp into Fiction,” pp. 105–10. Following Gilbert’s model and shifting focus toward the role of sight in the poem, Akbari explores this idea in “The Saracen Body: The Hybrid,” pp. 191–92. Calkin also uses the interpretive framework established by Gilbert in Saracens and the Making of English Identity, pp. 117–19.
24. For detailed accounts of the medieval idea that all bodily fluids were some form of blood, see Caroline Walker Bynum’s influential Wonderful Blood: Theology and Practice in Late Medieval Northern Germany and Beyond (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 2007), p. 158; and Joan Cadden’s seminal work, Meanings of Sex Difference in the Middle Ages: Medicine, Science, and Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1993), p. 184.
25. Heng, “Beauty and the East,” p. 231.
26. Heng, “Beauty and the East,” pp. 231–34. See also Lisa Lampert, “Race, Periodicity, and the (Neo-) Middle Ages,” in Modern Language Quarterly, 65 (2004), 391–421.
27. Calkin argues that the formless lump of The King of Tars “escapes identification” since it is neither Christian nor Saracen and “lies beyond the realm of human definition and identification,” in Saracens and the Making of English Identity, p. 118. For a detailed analysis of the broader implications of cultural categorization in the poem, see Lampert, “Race, Periodicity, and the (Neo-) Middle Ages,” pp. 391–421.
28. See MED s.v. “selcouþe,” adj. 1.a (“Marvellous, miraculous, preternatural”), 2.a (“Unusual, strange, peculiar”), and 2.b (“Uncanny, weird, monstrous”).
29. For an opposing view, see Calkin, Saracens and the Making of English Identity, pp. 111–12. She argues that the poem’s depiction of religion relies on a paradox: that the Princess only appears to be Saracen, but internal character and external appearance are inextricable. Religious identity, Calkin concludes, cannot be easily discerned. My point here is that the Princess can merely appear to be Saracen because her spiritual essence transcends the Sultan’s interpretive gaze.
30. The Second Nun’s Tale in The Riverside Chaucer, gen. ed. Benson, ll. 498–504; “Seinte Margarete,” in Medieval English Prose for Women: Selections from the Katherine Group and Ancrene Wisse, ed. Bella Millet and Jocelyn Wogan-Browne (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1990), p. 74.
31. Gilbert, “Putting the Pulp into Fiction,” pp. 106–9. Some of my conclusions about form are coterminous with Gilbert’s, but I supplement her Lacanian reading of the Law of the Father with an analysis of the vocabulary provided by the poem.
32. See Calkin, “Romance Baptisms and Theological Contexts in The King of Tars and Sir Ferumbras,” in Medieval Romance, Medieval Contexts, ed. Rhiannon Purdie and Michael Cichon (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2011), pp. 105–20. This study is grounded firmly in religious discourse. Calkin’s argument for the significance of the physical is certainly effective; my purpose here, however, is to highlight the ways in which various medieval discourses merge in the poem.
33. Heng, “Beauty and the East,” p. 228; and Calkin, Saracens and the Making of English Identity, pp. 107–10.
34. Heng, “Beauty and the East,” pp. 233–34; and Lampert, “Race, Periodicity, and the (Neo-) Middle Ages,” pp. 407–9. For a detailed analysis of the language of blackness in the poem, see Cord J. Whitaker, “Black Metaphors in the King of Tars,” JEGP, 112 (2013), 169–93.
35. See Joseph Ziegler, “Skin and Character in Medieval and Early Renaissance Physiognomy,” Micrologus: Natura, Scienze e Società Medievali; Nature, Science and Medieval Studies, 13 (2005), 535. Although skin color was thought to reflect inner characteristics, medieval physiognomies cannot, Ziegler argues, be used to reconstruct “medieval attitudes toward black people” (pp. 533–34). Blackness in physiognomy texts, he explains, typically denotes a melancholic complexion or a person who lives in a particularly hot area of the world, as opposed to specifically black skin. Despite this lack of attention toward ethnicity, however, it is clear that learned physiognomies recognized a link between blood and skin, and between skin and a person’s particular temperament.
36. Being Christian in flesh and blood is not distinct from being Christian in spirit, as advised by the Apostle Paul. See Rom. 2:28–29: “non enim qui in manifesto Iudaeus et neque quae in manifesto in carne circumcisio / sed qui in abscondito Iudaeus est et circumcisio cordis in spiritu non littera cuius laus non ex hominibus sed ex Deo est” (For it is not he is a Jew that is so outwardly, nor is it that circumcision which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew that is one inwardly, and the circumcision is that of the heart in the spirit, not in the letter, whose praise is not of men, but of God); and 1 Cor. 15:44: “si est corpus animale, est et spiritale” (If there be a natural body, there is also a spiritual body). All Biblical passages are from Biblia Sacra iuxta Vulgatam versionem, ed. Roger Gryson et al., 5th ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2007); Douai-Rheims translation. These Pauline passages suggest that the material body can only be fully realized if it also has a spiritual existence. For the Princess, Jon, and Cleopas of The King of Tars, the spiritual existence of the body resides in the material blood.
37. See James J. Megivern, “The Practice of Communion: 3. B) Miracle-hosts,” in Concomitance and Communion: A Study in Eucharistic Doctrine and Practice (Fribourg, Switzerland: University Press, 1963), p. 44. This point is also made by Akbari, “Incorporation in the Siege of Melayne,” in Pulp Fictions of Medieval England, ed. McDonald, pp. 22–44, esp. pp. 30 and 41, n. 26.
38. See Miri Rubin, Corpus Christi: The Eucharist in Late Medieval Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1991); and Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England c. 1400-c. 1580, 2d ed. (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 2005). Rubin is particularly concerned with the real presence of Christ’s body and traces the emergence of the Eucharist as a symbol and the ways in which it was interpreted through the twelfth to sixteenth centuries. For Duffy, the sight of the Eucharist in the Middle Ages formed a “community of humanity” (p. 90).
39. Augustine, Sermon 227, Patrologia Latina, ed. J.-P. Migne, 221 vols. (Paris, 1844–65), 38, 1099. The English translation can be found in “Sermon 227: Preached on the Holy Day of Easter to the Infantes, on the Sacraments,” in Sermons, trans. Edmund Hill, 11 vols., The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century (New Rochelle, NY: New City Press, 1993), VI, 254. The Pauline text is 1 Cor. 10:17, “quoniam unus panis unum corpus multi sumus omnes quidem de uno pane participamur” (For we, being many, are one bread, one body, all that partake of one bread). Both are quoted by Megivern, “The Doctrine of Concomitance: The Infancy of the Doctrine: Patristic Survey,” in Concomitance and Communion, p. 68.
40. For a comprehensive history of concomitance, see Megivern, Concomitance and Communion. For an analysis of how the doctrine works in medieval romance, see Akbari, “Incorporation in the Siege of Melayne,” pp. 32–35.
41. Bynum’s full account of blood as the seat of life can be found in “Blood as Sedes Animae,” in Wonderful Blood, pp. 161–68.
42. For Daniel’s theorization of blood as a carrier of “spiritus,” see Liber Uricrisiarum 2.6.33r, 45v, 58r.