Animal Encounters

Animal Encounters: Contacts and Concepts in Medieval Britain

Susan Crane
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Animal Encounters
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0630-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Note on Citations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    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 use bones to estimate wolf populations, and historians reconstruct falcon keeping from household accounts. Medievalists who work primarily with imaginative writing have a role in this cross-disciplinary conversation. In recent decades the focus of literary studies has shifted from tracing intertextual relationships to mapping broadly material, social, textual, and embodied scenes...

  5. Chapter 1 Cohabitation
    (pp. 11-41)

    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 Northumbria. On the island of Iona, 80 miles off the Irish coast and one mile off the Scottish Isle of Mull, Columba (Colum-cille) founded a monastery in 563 that soon became the leading religious foundation of the Irish world. Proselytizing among the Picts and then in the seventh century among the...

  6. Chapter 2 Wolf, Man, and Wolf-Man
    (pp. 42-68)

    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 tut li fes” (“there is no fable so foolish that does not offer ‘philosophy’ in the apologues that follow, where all the weight of the story lies”).¹ Marie’s fable de folie refers to the imagined narrative of talking...

  7. Chapter 3 A Bestiary’s Taxonomy of Creatures
    (pp. 69-100)

    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 was shaping the natural lore they drew from Classical writers, including Aristotle (through intermediaries) on the one hand, and on the other, the mystical and didactic readings of nature they adapted from Physiologus and Ambrose’s Hexameron. A further second-family source, Isidore’s Etymologies, inspired their organization of entries on...

  8. Chapter 4 The Noble Hunt as a Ritual Practice
    (pp. 101-119)

    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 substantially than may at first appear, but on balance the bestiary’s frame of reference rests inside the library and the scriptorium. A marginal note in bestiary manuscript Additional 11283 illustrates in its uniqueness the bestiary’s learned frames of reference. Other notations in the manuscript offer academic glosses, cross-references to Solinus, and the...

  9. Chapter 5 Falcon and Princess
    (pp. 120-136)

    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 of a single case. My last chapters turn away from taxonomic and ritual impulses and back toward the cohabiting of my first two chapters. Like the cat and scholar, raven and saint, and wolf and man, relationships struck between two significantly different creatures preoccupy these next chapters. My opening chapters pondered...

  10. Chapter 6 Knight and Horse
    (pp. 137-168)

    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 of chivalry. Across the medieval written record, the relation of knight and horse is the most densely represented of all cross-species interactions. Yet many publications on the literatures of chivalry make no mention of the horse. I am guilty myself of this neglect: my Performance of Self discusses many aspects of chivalric performance, but barely mentions the...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 169-172)

    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 that need recovering and reconsideration. My concluding example in Chapter 6, the Auchinleck Bevis of Hampton, well illustrates the complexity with which medieval writers apprehended relationships among the creatures. Bevis’s masterful self-extension in chivalric pursuit of his heritage veers off course as he surrenders that heritage to...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 173-236)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 237-264)
  14. Index
    (pp. 265-270)
  15. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 271-271)