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The Ends of the Body

The Ends of the Body: Identity and Community in Medieval Culture

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 344
  • Book Info
    The Ends of the Body
    Book Description:

    The essays provide new perspectives on the centrality of the medieval body and underscore the vitality of this rich field of study.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-6138-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-2)
  5. Introduction: Limits and Teleology: The Many Ends of the Body
    (pp. 3-22)

    As everyone knows, the end of the body is in the grave, as bone and muscle, corpuscle and fibre, are disassembled into their constituent elements. But, as everyone also knew (at least during the Middle Ages), the end of the body was also at the end of time, as soul and restored flesh were reunited in the glorified body that the righteous individual would enjoy, bathed in the bliss of the Beatific Vision. Monumental tombs of the period – such as the one depicted on the medieval manuscript page reproduced on this book’s cover – emphasize these two opposed states...

  6. Part One: Foundations

    • 1 Books, Bodies, and Bones: Hilduin of St-Denis and the Relics of St Dionysius
      (pp. 25-60)

      On the evening of 8 October 827, Emperor Louis the Pious sent the abbey of St-Denis near Paris a Greek codex containing mystical theological works and letters whose author claimed to be Dionysius the Areopagite, a convert of the apostle Paul.¹ The abbot Hilduin, the other monks, and a number of lay people were performing the Night Office for the feast of their patron saint when, as Hilduin later tells the emperor, the advent of the codex caused a number of miraculous healings. In a letter to Louis (BHL 2173), Hilduin says:

      For we received, as a great offering, a...

    • 2 Death Is Not the End: The Encounter of the Three Living and the Three Dead in the Berlin Hours of Mary of Burgundy and Maximilian I
      (pp. 61-85)

      The Three Living and the Three Dead, a late medieval moralizing story, tells of three young men who are confronted by corpses as they return from an afternoon of hunting. In many versions of this story, the living and dead speak in sequence, and the dead men declare ‘As you are, so we once were; what we are now, so shall you become!’¹ This exchange encourages the young men to change their ways and focus more on the fate of their souls than on worldly pleasures.²

      The earliest manuscript evidence for the story comes from late thirteenth-century France. Several courtly...

    • 3 The Good Death of Richard Whittington: Corpse and Corporation
      (pp. 86-110)

      Sometimes the end of the physical body actually extends the body’s reach in time and space through ‘perpetual’ bequests. Even as they become corpses, the bodies of the wealthy give birth to corporations and the urban landscape and its inhabitants are the beneficiaries. This essay explores one such process that helped to shape fifteenth-century London, the process that began, at least for symbolic purposes, with the ‘good death’ of Richard Whittington: wealthy merchant, important creditor to the crown, and – besides being, under the name Dick Whittington, the owner of the most famous medieval English cat – three times mayor...

  7. Part Two: Bodily Rhetoric

    • 4 An Epic Incarnation of Salvation: The Function of the Body in the Eupolemius
      (pp. 113-131)

      The role of the body in theEupolemiusis a function of the poem’s own peculiar hybrid anatomy. Neither a biblical epic nor a personification allegory, theEupolemiususes the conventional narrative elements of epic to present a kind of abstract of salvation history. It treats the devil’s war against God, recounts the fall of humanity, and traces the fortunes of Judas (the Jewish people) and Ethnis (the gentiles) through the ups and downs of salvation history, culminating in the death of the Messiah. The poem probably dates from the late eleventh century, and its author may possibly have been...

    • 5 Losing Face: Heroic Discourse and Inscription in Flesh in Scéla Mucce Meic Dathó
      (pp. 132-152)

      Early Irish sagas are celebrated for their terse narrative style, concreteness of imagery, and forthright portrayal of bodily realities.Scéla Mucce Meic Dathó(‘The Story of Mac Dathó’s Pig’), one of the best-loved Irish sagas,² typifies these qualities. This short tale occupies just over four columns in the earliest manuscript, the twelfth-century Book of Leinster. The dating of the text is uncertain: because the text is in Old Irish³ with some later forms, its most recent editor posits a tenth- or eleventh-century common source for the surviving manuscripts (Thurneysen,Scéla Mucceiv), but other scholars would date the text a...

    • 6 The Dazzling Sword of Language: Masculinity and Persuasion in Classical and Medieval Rhetoric
      (pp. 153-174)

      Oratory in the Roman world was an important vehicle for establishing social and political dominance. Trumping the traditional battlefield wherevirtus, or Roman martial valour, is forged and displayed, the law courts became, by the late Republic, the new arena in which Roman manliness was negotiated. As Thomas Habinek has put it, rhetorical training and competition was the crucible from which emerged the ‘transformed, or newly formed, elite male subject, possessed of a distinctive linguistic, sexual, political and intellectual identity’ (Habinek 78). The crafting of a suitably active and authoritative masculinity that embraces the Roman values of impenetrability, muscularity, bodily...

  8. Part Three: Performing the Body

    • 7 Amputating the Traitor: Healing the Social Body in Public Executions for Treason in Late Medieval England
      (pp. 177-192)

      It is a well-established anthropological axiom that for human beings the body is the ‘first and most natural instrument’ to give meaning to and conceptually structure their environment and social interactions (Mauss 104). Body metaphors for abstract notions have always been part of social and cultural discourse, and as for example Mary Douglas inNatural Symbolshas argued, the ways in which the human body is perceived by society will be informed by how it is used to render visible these abstractions. This is particularly evident in the perception of the social body as a regulator of individual corporeal behaviours...

    • 8 ‘A Defect of the Mind or Body’: Impotence and Sexuality in Medieval Theology and Canon Law
      (pp. 193-210)

      Medieval attitudes to sex have received a great deal of attention in recent decades. Historians have examined canon law, theology, medicine, hagiography, and other sources in order to understand how medieval people thought about their bodies and about sexual behaviour.¹ As might be expected, several of these recent studies discuss sexual impotence. In particular, among historians of theology and canon law, James Brundage (Law,Sex,and Christian Societyand ‘Impotence’) has outlined how twelfth- and thirteenth-century canon lawyers developed the rules for when marriages could be annulled on grounds of impotence, and Pierre Payer (73–5) has discussed theological attitudes...

    • 9 Bodily Performances and Body Talk in Medieval Islamic Preaching
      (pp. 211-236)

      ‘Bodies (are a means of) saving souls, and by this I mean salvation through good deeds’ (Anonymous, fol. 1).¹ This is but one of the numerous maxims and motifs featuring the body that appear in medieval Islamic sermons. The saying, spoken by a thirteenth-century anonymous Mudejar preacher,² epitomizes a moral theology that envisages the body as partner, rather than foe or obstacle, in the spiritual path towards God. It will serve as my point of departure to explore the representation, function, and cultural import of the body in medieval Islamic sermons delivered before Muslim audiences in the Iberian Peninsula and...

  9. Part Four: Material Body

    • 10 The Leprous Body in Twelfth- and Thirteenth-Century Rouen: Perceptions and Responses
      (pp. 239-259)

      Leprosy was a significant problem in the central Middle Ages, as reflected by the establishment of numerous leper houses across Western Europe between the late eleventh and the mid-thirteenth centuries, and by the fact that the words ‘leper’ and ‘leprosy’ retain strong associations for us even today. Historians such as Saul Brody (60–1) have argued that, in the Middle Ages, the healthy responded to the leprous with fear and revulsion. The belief that leprosy was contagious, and constituted a divine punishment for sin, resulted in the isolation of lepers from society, with lepers forming a subgroup among the mass...

    • 11 The Feminine Flesh in the Disputacione betwyx the Body and Wormes
      (pp. 260-282)

      In the late fifteenth-century morality playMankind, the title character laments that his body has reversed the natural order of things by gaining dominance over his soul, just as a wife might gain dominance over her husband:

      My name ys Mankynde, I have my composycyon

      Of a body and of a soull, of condycyon contrarye.

      Betwyx þem tweyn ys a grett dyvisyon;

      He þat xulde be subjecte, now he hath þe victory.

      Thys ys to me a lamentable story;

      To se my flesch of my soull to have governance.

      Wher þe goodewyff is master, þe goodeman may be sory! (ll....

    • 12 Death as Metamorphosis in the Devotional and Political Allegory of Christine de Pizan
      (pp. 283-314)

      The essays in this volume have highlighted the interplay between the individual body and the communal body: that is, the way in which the community is figured as a body that contains mutually interdependent members, and excludes that which lies outside its boundaries. This closing essay focuses on how the body’s apparent stability is undercut by its necessarily changeable nature: just as the individual human body appears different over time, just as it matures, eventually weakens, and finally dies and decays, so too the communal body is subject to alteration. Change is in its nature. In the Christian vision of...

  10. List of Contributors
    (pp. 315-318)
  11. Index
    (pp. 319-327)