Contacts and Concepts in Medieval Britain
Publication Year: 2012
Traces of the living animal run across the entire corpus of medieval writing and reveal how pervasively animals mattered in medieval thought and practice. In fascinating scenes of cross-species encounters, a raven offers St. Cuthbert a lump of lard that waterproofs his visitors' boots for a whole year, a scholar finds inspiration for his studies in his cat's perfect focus on killing mice, and a dispossessed knight wins back his heritage only to give it up again in order to save the life of his warhorse. Readers have often taken such encounters to be merely figurative or fanciful, but Susan Crane discovers that these scenes of interaction are firmly grounded in the intimate cohabitation with animals that characterized every medieval milieu from palace to village. The animal encounters of medieval literature reveal their full meaning only when we recover the living animal's place within the written animal.
The grip of a certain humanism was strong in medieval Britain, as it is today: the humanism that conceives animals in diametrical opposition to humankind. Yet medieval writing was far from univocal in this regard. Latin and vernacular works abound in other ways of thinking about animals that invite the saint, the scholar, and the knight to explore how bodies and minds interpenetrate across species lines. Crane brings these other ways of thinking to light in her readings of the beast fable, the hunting treatise, the saint's life, the bestiary, and other genres. Her substantial contribution to the field of animal studies investigates how animals and people interact in culture making, how conceiving the animal is integral to conceiving the human, and how cross-species encounters transform both their animal and their human participants.
Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press
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Notes on Citations
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The people of medieval Britain lived in daily contact with domestic and wild animals. Forest and wasteland loomed over settlements, and even city streets teemed with all kinds of creatures. Scholars attempt to recapture this physical intimacy from its material traces. Archaeologists discuss paw prints on tile floors, zoologists ...
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Celtic populations in northern Britain had received Christian conversion by the fifth century, when they began to participate in the conversion of Ireland. During the sixth and seventh centuries, religious traffic across the Irish Sea shifted strongly in the direction of Britain as Irish missionaries came into Scotland and ...
2. Wolf, Man, and Wolf-Man
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In the works of Marie de France, philosophy and poetry touch and diverge. Marie’s prologue to her Fables (ca. 1190) praises the example of “li philosophe,” wise teachers who write to instruct; she defends her fables on the ground that “n’i ad fable de folie / U il nen ait philosophie / Es essamples ki sunt aprés, / U des cuntes est ...
3. A Bestiary’s Taxonomy of Creatures
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The Goat, a noisy wild beast that resembles Jesus in its acute sight and its descent from mountains to valleys, introduces the interpretive challenges that certain books of beasts, called second- family bestiaries, offered their readers and listeners.1 The sources for these bestiaries are disparate, and it can seem that no governing principle ...
4. The Noble Hunt as a Ritual Practice
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The second-family bestiary establishes relationships among animals in a learned, reflective, morally instructive mode. Observation of living creatures is less important to the bestiary’s taxonomy than is collating and organizing the animal lore and animal narratives of the past. Traces of living behavior also mark the bestiary, more ...
5. Falcon and Princess
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The noble hunt’s ritual and the bestiary’s taxonomy imagine capacious systems for cross- species relationship. Taking such a wide view of creation entails ordering and judging creatures by groups and species rather than one by one; the emphasis in system- making falls on prescribing and proscribing and not on the nuances ...
6. Knight and Horse
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Like Canacee’s relation to the falcon, Gawain’s relation to his warhorse Gringolet and Bevis’s relation to Arondel involve symbolic elevation, compassionate companionship, and moral virtue. The interaction of knight and horse also involves a complexly coordinated material relationship that forms the very foundation ...
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In medieval writing the grip of a certain humanism was strong, as it is today: the humanism that conceives all other animals in opposition to humankind, and hierarchizes that binary opposition so that animals are distributed along a single axis of lack. But medieval works abound in other ways of thinking about animals ...
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The intellectual and institutional debts of gratitude I have accumulated in writing this book are far too numerous to acknowledge in full. I am grateful for expert guidance from curators and staff of the manuscripts collections in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the Bodleian Library, the British Library, the University ...
Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2012