Saturday, November 28, 2009

MAP Sessions Accepted

More good news! Marcus Hensel and I submitted a pair of unofficially Mearcstapa-ish sessions to the Medieval Association of the Pacific, which were both accepted. These should be great sessions, and I hope some of the Western members will be in attendance. MAP puts on a good conference -- very friendly and collegial. Information is here. Our sessions are as follows:

Session: Silences and Gaps: The Missing Monsters -- Friday Session I

Session Presider: Marcus Hensel (student)

Speaker 1
Laurynn Lowe, Independent Scholar: Re-Membering Monsters: The Nature of Traits in Wolfram's Parzival

Speaker 2
Asa Simon Mittman, Chico State: Maps without Monsters

Speaker 3
Heather Bamford, University of California, Berkeley: Monster Esthetics, Material Monsters: Representing and Presenting Monsters in the Libro del conosçimiento de todos los reinos,
manuscript Z

Session: Naming, Knowing and Remembering Monsters—Session VIII (Saturday)
Session Presider: Asa Simon Mittman, Chico State

Speaker 1
Marcus Hensel, University of Oregon: Can the Monster Speak?: Silence and the Grendelkin’s Status as Monsters

Speaker 2
Joyce Lionarons, Ursinus College: Wulfstan’s Werewolf

Speaker 3
John Hill, U.S. Naval Academy: The Monstrous and Modified Heroism in Beowulf

Mearcstapa is heading back to Leeds

Good news! We have just heard back from the selection committee at Leeds, and our two sessions have been accepted, again. This will be our third run there, in an many years. This summer, our sessions will again be excellent. Here are the lineups:

Session 218
Session Time: Mon. 12 July - 14.15-15.45

Title: Exploring the Monstrous, I: Constructions of Identity
Abstract: This is one of two sessions on monsters and monstrosity submitted by MEARCSTAPA. The year's theme of Travel and Exploration is a perfect fit with our interest in monstrosity, a concept frequently linked to geography in the Middle Ages. These three papers focus on clothing, armor, and gender in constructions of monstrosity. The papers will interrogate the issue of where identity lies, on the outside or the inside, in the interior individual, in its body, or even in the clothing by which it is covered. In all cases, the construction of monsters bears important implications for our understandings of medieval notions of the human.

Moderator/Chair Jeff Massey, Molloy College, New York

Paper -a Queering Mandeville's Female Monsters: Transformative, Transgender, Transsexual
Speaker: Dana Oswald, Department of English, University of Wisconsin, Parkside

Paper -b 'The angels men complain of': Monstrous Masculinity in La Conte du Graal
Speaker: Karma de Gruy, Department of English, Emory University, Georgia

Paper -c Living Large and Leaving the Liminal: The Giant Saint and the Incarnation in the South English Legendary's Life of St Christopher
Speaker: Christopher Maslanka, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Session 318
Session Time: Mon. 12 July - 16.30-18.00

Title: Exploring the Monstrous, II: Geographies of the Monstrous
Abstract: This is one of two sessions on monsters and monstrosity submitted by MEARCSTAPA. The year's theme of Travel and Exploration is a perfect fit with our interest in monstrosity, a concept frequently linked to geography in the Middle Ages. These three papers focus on the geography of the monstrous, examining how the location of monsters impacted medieval concepts of monstrosity and identity. We will address not only accounts of people traveling to distant monsters, but also texts, images and maps, in which the monsters themselves are the travelers. The papers will address how maps were integrated into medieval understandings of location, identity, and even narrative structure.

Moderator/Chair Larissa Tracy, Department of English & Modern Languages, Longwood University, Virginia

Paper -a Monstrum viator: The Travelling Monsters of Herzog Ernst
Speaker: Debra Higgs Strickland, Glasgow Centre for Medieval & Renaissance Studies, University of Glasgow

Paper -b 'On what maner he myght dyscrivyn hit aryght': Tundale, Monsters, and the Mappaemundi
Speaker: Michelle Kustarz, Wayne State University, Michigan

Paper -c Navigating the Margins: Sources, Analogs, Wandering Monsters, and the Digital Mappaemundi
Speaker: Asa Mittman, Department of Art & Art History, California State University, Chico

Monday, November 2, 2009

Mearcstapa goes South

Hi all,

I would like to report briefly on a MEARCSTAPA-related trip. This weekend I went to Tennessee for the first annual MART (Medieval And Renaissance Teaching) conference, sponsored by Carson-Newman College. The conference, with the occult-related theme of "The Monstrous Middle Ages and the Wretched Renaissance" was housed--for maximum irony, it would seem--at the Carson Springs Baptist Conference Center:

The setting, in the rural Smokey Mountains, was quite stunning and bucolic, and the deep porches, filled with rocking chairs, were ideal for viewing the fall foliage.

Nick Deford--my native guide and generous host, and the main designer of MEARCSTAPA's wonderful logo--and I took full advantage. Nothing like a fine, rustic country setting, but with free wireless.

There were many interesting papers, and I gave the keynote address, entitled "Can Monsters Really Take Up Half of My Survey Syllabus?" (The answer, of course, was "Yes!") Other papers covered witchcraft, the Reformation (Luther as a 7-headed monster), hermaphrodites, and the Inquisition.

The real highlight, though, was dinner at the Front Porch, which bills itself as a Hillybilly Mexican restaurant. Rather surprisingly good enchiladas accompanied by a live bluegrass duo. The joint is in Cosby, TN, which looked like a good town to find moonshine for sale. Really.

This was all good enough, but then (and I suppose that the fact that it was the day before Halloween probably played a role, here), in walked a nine-year-old zombie named London:

Here she is, talking with me. This is the little monster responding to my assertion that I was a "monster expert." When I called her a zombie, she pointed out that she was a girl, not a zombie, and, to prove this, she said "If I was a zombie, wouldn't I be eatin' your brains right now?" QED. She was already fabulous enough, but then, still in costume, she took to the stage and, accompanied by the bluegrass guys, sang Lee Greenwood's jingoistic "God Bless the USA," to the general delight of the crowd:

All was going well until she got to the part about New York (my homeland):

... To the hills of Tennessee
... Across the plains of Texas
... From sea to shining sea
... From Detroit down to Houston
... And New York to LA

After "Houston," she stopped, well, dead (get it? zombie?). She just couldn't get out those next words. I have never been to anywhere that was more foreign to me than Cosby, Tennessee, but it was all absolutely monstrous, and therefore all tremendous fun. I felt like every cell in my body was inscribed with an interlocking "NY."

My thanks to Mary Baldridge and L. Kip Wheeler for organizing the conference and inviting me out to spread the Gospel of Monsters! And to Nick, for hosting me for a bonus talk at UT, while I was in the area. Which brings me to my final note. The University of Tennessee has the skeleton of a centaur. Yes, that's what I said. Don't believe me? Check it out here! Now I know what to ask my dean for this holiday season.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Submissions for LEEDS 2010

The first few are in! I hope for many more!


Debra Strickland
University of Glasgow

Monstrum viator: The Travelling Monsters of Herzog Ernst

This paper will examine relationships between monsters, clothing, and travel in the late medieval German epic-romance, Herzog Ernst. In this gripping tale of conquest and crusade, Duke Ernst and his knights, on their way to fight the ‘heathen’ in the Holy Land, experience sequential encounters with different monstrous groups as they travel across the exotic East. The Crane Men, One-Stars, Flat-Hooves, Pygmies and Giants all have their separate agendas that the Duke and his knights either thwart or facilitate. That is, while the hostile monsters are annihilated, others are friendly and even in need of military defence, which the Duke and his men honourably provide. Most amazingly, the knights learn to speak ‘Arimaspi’, and a number of the monsters forsake their homelands to follow the crusaders to the Holy Land. While for some of them, this is the last stop, a select few of the monsters accompany the knights back to Bavaria and to the imperial court to begin a new life in the Holy Roman Empire.

Besides violating convention by moving the monsters from East to West, the tale places an unusual emphasis on their highly sophisticated cities, clothing, and material furnishings, thus contradicting contemporary notions of monstrous appearances, behaviour and dwellings. Through application of sartorial analysis as first developed by E. Jane Burns, ‘reading through clothes’ will help to explain how oriental finery and monstrosity together blur geographical boundaries in ways that ultimately help to shape Western courtly identity. In this discussion, pictorial imagery will play a crucial role. While only a relatively small amount of Herzog Ernst illustrations have survived, an examination of just a few images from one of the more extensive pictorial cycles reveals ways in which artists contributed to the conceptual merging of East and West, thereby subverting the East-West dichotomy apparently operational in medieval courtly romance.


Eric Carlson
Department of English
University of South Carolina Aiken

Grendels, Glámrs, and Skrælings: A New World Ogre in its Infancy

Grændlendinga saga and Eirikssaga both describe the Scandinavian exploration of the New World in the early eleventh century. As with so many other examples of medieval travel literature, the Scandinavian explorers in these related texts come across examples of the supernatural and the monstrous in the course of their travels. Two of the most obvious are a ghostly visitation in chapter 7 of Grændlendinga saga and a uniped that appears in chapter 12 of Eirikssaga. However, both of these intersections with the monstrous are handled by the respective authors in a very matter-of-fact fashion, as if such events and creatures are relatively commonplace. What is intriguing, however, is how the authors of these sagas portray the Skrælings—the Native American tribes whom the Scandinavians meet along the North American coast. While the Skrælings are clearly “human” to both characters and saga authors alike, the authors portray them in a way that resonates with established traditions of ogres and trolls in Germanic literature. In essence, the authors of these sagas (and especially the author of Eirikssaga) create images of the North Americans that place them within an ogrish continuum and emphasizes the Skrælings’ “monstrous” qualities at the expense of their humanity. This is not to say, however, that the Skrælings are to be taken as ogres or trolls in the texts. Rather, we should read the portrayal of the Skrælings as the first step in an ongoing process of textual conversion in which the unfamiliar outsider becomes, via time and transmission, the inhuman monstrous other that will invariably threaten the fabric of society.


Michelle Kustarz
Wayne State University

“On what maner he myght dyscrivyn hit aryght”: Tundale, Monsters and the Mappaemundi

Much criticism has been leveled at The Vision of Tundale’s apparent lack of narrative structure and continuity, particularly in its movement between the Passus and the Gaudia. The Passus detail increasingly horrid descriptions of the damned, culminating with Lucifer; the Gaudia begin with those undergoing mild punishments and then ascend to increasingly divine landscapes and visions. It had been recognized that this movement in Tundale is often seen as chaotic and unorganized by modern readers because it does not conform to the format of Dante, the culmination and most familiar of all purgatory visions. This paper posits that the movement of Tundale adheres to a different logic: that of the mappaemundi and various pseudo-travel writings such as the Wonders of the East and The Letter of Alexander to Aristotle.

The Vision of Tundale was particularly popular with its contemporary audience and much has been discussed of how the majority of the text’s surviving copies are found bound in manuscripts containing numerous popular romances, indicating that the text fulfilled an interest in grisly detail and adventure. Much less though has been discussed of Tundale’s relationship to travel narrative, monstrous description, and the logic of the mappaemundi. Taking Tundale’s encounter with Satan and his determination to “dyscrivyn hit aright” as a main site of investigation, this paper explores the affinities between Dante’s most elaborate predecessor and certain writings detailing the encounters one has when traveling East; contending that Tundale is not two separate visions and movements crammed together with mixed results, but rather a journey in close relationship with such travel texts.


Medieval Ethnography
Dan Goldenberg
Tel Aviv University

It is widely accepted that medieval ethnography was re-invented during the 12th century with the works of Gerald of Wales, as argued by Robert Bartlett. In my paper I would rather like to suggest that the description of foreign people was a longue-dureé process which started in Ancient Greece and progressed all through the middle ages.

By suggesting some criteria of recognizing an ethnographic description, I would like to show that during the Early Middle Ages writers like Ammianus Marcelinus and Jordanes, and Adam of Bremen and Helmold of Bossau (in the 11th century) described invading peoples from the East and the Christianization of the Scandinavians and the Slavs. Some of these peoples were regarded as monsters, but still one can realize that although these descriptions were fragmentary, they represent an ongoing interest in the nature and habits of foreign people.

From the 12th century we have ethnographic monographs (written by Gerald of Wales, Giovanni Carpini and Wiliam of Rubruck). These works represent a rather new tendency towards eye-witness accounts and a greater attention to the author's own experience during his observation of foreign people. Even though these descriptions discuss the "monstrous races", they reveal some doubts regarding their very existence, as well as a tendency towards more realistic descriptions of other people.


Christopher Maslanka
University of Wisconsin, Madison
Living Large and Leaving the Liminal: The Giant Saint and the Incarnation in the South English Legendary's Life of Saint Christopher

The Life of St. Christopher, as recorded in the earliest manuscript of The South English Legendary (MS Laud 108), interprets the excessive body of the giant as a metaphor for the paradox of the incarnation. Further, the SEL version of St. Christopher uses the embodied giant in a way consistent with Elizabeth Grosz’s theory of the body as a site where binaries break down. In the case of St. Christopher, the saint’s giant body challenges the divisions between human and God and between human and monster. Though the liminal position of the monster between binaries has been firmly established, this reading of St. Christopher’s legend describes a process by which that liminal body can travel across boundaries and be incorporated into the realm of either the divine or the human or both. Christopher’s initial contact with Christianity is categorized by references to Christ’s creation of Christopher’s giant body and to Christ’s physical sacrifice. When Christopher meets the Chri
st-child, the text focuses on the miraculous paradox of a child embodying limitless divine power and Christopher is left to question the humanity of the Christ-child, even as his own humanity has been questioned. In each instance the text connects Christopher’s excessive body with God’s excessive power, linking the two by metaphor and suggesting something of the monstrous in Christ. In Christopher’s subsequent trials the text juxtaposes Christopher’s Christologically appropriate responses to violence and overt sexuality with the expected narrative of violence associated with the giant’s body. The giant’s Christian behavior forces a re-interpretation of the narrative his body represents even as Christ’s monstrosity must be interpreted as evidence of divine power and grace. My analysis of St. Christopher suggests how a thirteenth century audience might have understood divine power by contemplating the paradox of the Christian giant.

Queering Mandeville’s Female Monsters: Transformative, Transgender, Transsexual

Through his fictional travels, the eponymous Sir John Mandeville encounters not only priests, kings, and warriors from other cultures and religions, but also a wide selection of the monsters sampled in other variations of the medieval travel narrative. He lists the usual suspects, from the Cyclopes to the Sciapodes, monsters who are, by assumption, figured as male. However, Mandeville also points out four monsters specifically identified as female. While the male human(oid) monsters he mentions are usually monsters of lack, excess, or animal hybridity, the female monsters are defined most clearly by the ways in which they exceed or transgress the capacities and limits of the female body. The dragon woman, the dead woman who gives birth to a monstrous head, the Amazons, and the poison virgins all queer the notion of what it means not only to be a woman, but also to possess a woman’s body. Therefore, in this paper, I will examine the ways in which these women’s monstrous and transformative bodies might also be considered transgendered and transsexual. While identifying such bodies as monstrous circumscribes human behaviors and desires, it also exhibits the possibilities implicit in the incipient female form and the potential of the human body to not only function as an object of desire and prohibition, but also to become something new through the apparatus of monstrous and spectacular transformation.

Dr. Dana M. Oswald
Assistant Professor of English
University of Wisconsin-Parkside


Karma de Gruy
Emory University
English Dept.

“The Angels Men Complain Of”: Monstrous Masculinity in La Conte du Graal

While traveling through a forest one day, Chretien de Troyes’ young hero, Perceval, encounters a group of knights for the first time, and is nearly overwhelmed by the sight of their shining, armored bodies. He recounts the experience to his horrified mother, who exclaims, “Tu as veu, si com je croi, / Les enges don la gent se plaignent, / Qui ocient quan qu’il ataignent” [You have seen, I believe, the angels men complain of, who kill whatever they come upon].

In examining Chretien de Troyes’ elusive and previously unexplored reference to “the angels men complain of,” this paper will argue that the romance diverges from the dominant chivalric narrative to imagine a masculinity susceptible to the ravages of affect. Critics such as Jeffrey Jerome Cohen and Leo Braudy have suggested that the chivalric body in medieval romance is built from the outside in; in this articulation, the armor really does make the man. When Perceval sets out on his journey towards knighthood, it is this construction which drives him. Spurred on by a vision of the shining and beautiful knights he at first takes to be angels and filled with a burning desire to possess the armor and other accoutrements of knighthood, Perceval conceives of knightly identity as entirely composed of surfaces. He pursues a construction of chivalric masculinity in which the knight’s body is seamless, static, immune to affect, and impenetrable. But this ideal melding of body and armor, of identity and accoutrement, removes the knight from the category of what is recognizably human. The courtly violence of death-dealing knights renders them as beautiful, cold, and deadly as “the angels men complain of, who kill whatever they come upon.” In figuring the angel-knight as physically and morally monstrous, La Conte du Graal suggests a new masculine subject position emerging from the paradoxes of twelfth-century chivalric romance, and creates a heroic trajectory which dismantles the traditional hero/monster binary.

Monday, September 14, 2009


CFP: 2010 International Medieval Congress, Leeds
Title of Session(s): Exploring the Monstrous (I, II, ...)
Sponsor: Mearcstapa

This year's theme of Travel and Exploration seems tailor-made for work on monsters, many of which were believed to dwell in far-off lands, in 'the East,' or the far North or even, late in the period, in the 'New World.' We invite papers dealing with travel to monstrous lands and travel accounts describing interactions with monsters and monstrous peoples, as well as those dealing more abstractly with medieval explorations of the monstrous. We welcome papers in any discipline, dealing with any aspect of monstrosity in the Middle Ages. Depending on the submissions, we will propose between one and four full sessions to the selection committee at Leeds. Possibility exists for the collective publication of the papers, following the Congress.

Please send a paper title and abstract, along with you name, affiliation, mailing address and email address to Asa Simon Mittman ( by September 23, as we need to vote on these and submit as a unit to the IMC by October 1. Also please note if you will need any A/V equipment.

For more information, see the general CFP.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Two-Legged Sciopod?

Julian Luxford (many thanks) sent these images to me, showing what he calls "the Dennington sciapod, from deepest Suffolk." It hails from the Parish Church of St. Mary, from a pew in the nave.

At a glance, they didn't raise my eyes, but a closer look suggests TWO feet, and two legs. The pose is Sciopodish, as is the size of of the foot/feet, but not the number. What IS this fellow? And what are those round objects between his arm and chest?

The images are quite large, so click on these for the full versions.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

KZoo 2010 CFPs

1. The Monstrous, the Marvelous, and the Miraculous

Much critical attention is currently being directed at the monstrous in the Middle Ages, but the category is, by its very nature, difficult to define. It bleeds at the edges into other fundamental categories, most notably the marvelous and the miraculous. On one end of this spectrum, we find horrifying, homophagic nightmares and, on the other, direct evidence for the power and mercy of God.

While these two extremes seem, at a glance, to have little in common, they both were marvelous, deserving and inspiring our wonder on account of lying outside of the realm of the everyday. Both were therefore viewed as signs of God's divinity and divine plan for the universe. In this session, we will interrogate the blurred boundaries between these richly ambiguous epistemological categories, not striving to artificially sharpen their boundaries but rather, seeking greater nuance in our understandings of all three.

Please send abstracts of 300 words, along with a completed Participant Information Form
to Melissa Ridley-Elmes at by 1 September 2009.

2. Unexpected Monsters: Close Encounters of the Other Kind

Typically, in medieval imagination, monsters appear in liminal spaces, in spaces outside of the civilized realm of the court. In literature they might appear in the forests and deserts, or in the mountain ranges, while on medieval maps they might appear in peripheral spaces, in the uncharted regions on the edges of the world. In such instances, they often represent all that is other, different, dangerous... the unknown.

But what happens when the monster is local? Internal? This panel proposes to explore instances of unexpected monstrosity or otherness within within medieval imaginings—instances of difference that occur at the level of the local and familiar, or within the self. Papers are invited that explore such interpretations of monstrosity within literature, art, and architecture (or in medieval culture at large).

Please send abstracts of 300 words, along with a completed Participant Information Form
to Renée Ward at by 1 September 2009.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Submissions for KZoo 2010

This post contains the numerous strong submissions for our sessions at Kalamazoo, 2010. We have an embarassment of riches, and will have to make some hard choices.

Between the Monstrous, the Marvelous and the Miraculous:
Boundary Blurring in BL Harley 3244

Diane Heath

This proposed paper discusses two full-page miniatures and a central tabular design on what were originally the opening folios in 13th C penitentiary, BL Harley 3244 (f.27r-28v). These miniatures exhibit a wealth of monsters; from the first image of a Dominican receiving a scroll from a levitating, bubble-headed Christ, via the central battle between the monstrous seven deadly sins with their insectoid vices against the armoured, anonymous mounted knight, to the final six-winged cherub defeating the seven-headed dragon of sin. How might we interpret these illustrations as blurring boundaries between the Godly and not-Godly, sacred and profane, monstrous and divine?

While these miniatures may be interpreted independently of each other, they may also be read as a sequence. This narration is key to understanding their intertwined, monstrous mark-stepping, describing a metamorphosis from human to angelic via destruction of sinfulness, shown as contorted and bestial monstrosity. By depicting these sins as hybrids with caricatured Jewish heads, we find further monstrosity in terms of modern perceptions of antisemitism. Conversely, the moralized knight and the tattooed, six-winged cherub initially seem to establish rather than ambiguate their categories. Yet their sacred mission to overcome temptation is problematized by the secularity of the knight, whose weapons and accoutrements are then labelled as spiritual metaphors e.g. ‘the lance of perseverance’. Such monstrous martial imagery infuses this possibly early septenary for penitential meditation, indicating initiation anxieties over masculine power and celibacy.

Violent metamorphosis from sinful subhuman to beyond human is as relevant to the modern as it was to the medieval reader. Medieval monsters are often viewed as liminal and haunting but these spring centre-page as terrifying aspects of human failings and yearnings. Examining the interweaving of the monstrous, marvelous and miraculous Other in BL Harley 3244 allows a nuanced interpretation of its richly symbolic, boundary-blurring hermeneutics.

Brian McFadden
English Department
Texas Tech University

Miraculum, Mirabilis, Wundor, Tacen:
How Did the Anglo-Saxons Categorize Miracles and Marvels?

In this paper I will argue that the lexical line between marvels and miracles in early Christian Latin literature was porous, but Anglo-Saxon writers used multiple words to indicate shades of meaning rather than one potentially ambiguous word when discussing miracles and marvels. In early Christian Latin texts, mirabilia (wonders) could be used of both naturally- and supernaturally-driven phenomena, and while miracula were frequently acts of God, there are many instances where Latin writers called natural wonders miracula as well. However, there appears to have been a conceptual if not lexical distinction between natural and supernatural wonders; miracles are signs of divine power, indicators of divine will, or divine recognition of human virtue, and terms such as vis, virtus, index, potestas, or signum (strength, virtue, pointer, power, sign) were used to indicate the supernatural origin of an event, and they suggest a significance for the unusual event which must be derived from the context in which it occurs. If God is the author of natural law, however, all creation is potentially significant, even if the significance is not apparent; monstra, prodigia, portenta (monsters, prodigies, portents), and similar terms for wonders derive from verbs that imply extraordinary significance (monstrare, prodigere, portendere). However, without a specific context for interpreting them, the perceiver is left with a sense of anxiety over the encounter rather than a sense of the divine will. Anglo-Saxon writers, when discussing natural wonders, tend to use wundor or the verb wundrian on their own, but for miracles tend to use tacen or the verb tacnian in conjunction with wundor to indicate the awe induced by the event or being but to contain the anxiety in the context of divine action. I will conclude with a brief comparison of Bede and the Alfredian translator of the Historia Ecclesiastica with the Latin and Old English versions of Alexander's Letter to Aristotle to show how Anglo-Saxon translators grapple with the desire to produce intellectual categories for marvels and miracles despite the limits with which their language presents them.


The ‘Sign of Jonah’ and a Ketos Tail Point to the ‘Son of David’ Psalm, Ps. 72

Linda Møskeland Fuchs
Chesterton House, Ithaca, NY

In Matthew 12, Jesus heals a man blind, mute and demon-possessed, provoking the response, ‘Could this be the Son of David?’ Pharisees and scholars request a miraculous sign but Jesus says no sign will be given except the Sign of Jonah: As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea creature, the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth; also, men of Nineveh and the Queen of the South will testify for him in the Day of Judgment.

In the Book of Jonah, God prepares a ‘Great Fish’ (Hebrew dag gadol; Greek κήτος) to seize Jonah. Jonah’s ketos becomes both devourer and vehicle of safe passage. This creature is visualized in third-century Rome as a writhing sea-monster with serpentine body and boar-like head. A Christian twist on the Roman sea-monster appears on the Vatican 31448 ‘Jonah’ sarcophagus: The tail of the ketos becomes a crescent moon pointing to an inhabited sun. Unlike Sol, the man in the sun wears a crown atop his head. A coronation hymn for Solomon, Psalm 72, includes qualities no
human son of David could have: ‘May he endure as long as the sun; as long as the moon through all generations.’ Also, ‘Kings of Tarshish and of distant shores will bring tribute to him; royalty of Sheba and Seba will present him gifts.’ Sun and moon evoke temporal dominion, while Tarshish and Sheba (limits of the trading world) suggest spatial dominion. Geographic motifs parallel to the Jonah story in Psalm 72 (Tarshish) and Matthew12 (Nineveh) are both linked to the Queen of Sheba (‘royalty of Sheba’ / ‘Queen of the South’). In Matthew, this linkage hints of Psalm 72, answering ‘yes’ to the question ‘Could this be the Son of David?’


Ilan Mitchell-Smith
Monster Knights: Chivalric Identity and Monstrosity in Late-Medieval Chivalric Romance

In the romance Sir Gowther, the eponymous protagonist exhibits traditional traits of medieval monstrosity from birth, and the people of his father’s court and lands suffer greatly for it. Academic treatments of this narrative (Such as E.M. Bradstock’s or more recently Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s) have seen Gowther’s transgression into monstrosity as a polar opposite to heroism or a more viable chivalric identity. This paper nuances these earlier arguments, however, by suggesting that some of the markers of Gowther’s monstrosity are not eradicated as much as they are channeled. Monstrosity in this romance, I argue, is not corrected or rejected, but instead is incorporated and directed according to strict guidelines as well as national and religious concerns (namely against an encroaching Sultan and his army). Certain other romances, such as Libeaus Desconus and Sir Launfal treat monstrous behavior similar ways, in that they criticize monstrous behavior except when performed according to specific guidelines and strictures.

In this paper, I use the example of Sir Gowther to consider this role of monstrosity and to complicate the argument put forward by Michael Camille (in Image on the Edge) that late-medieval monstrosity is often synonymous with peripheral spaces of the non-Christian other. This paper then examines range of other mid- to late-fourteenth century Middle English chivalric romances to explore how monstrous sexual and violent behavior becomes both inherent to, and rejected by, contemporary perceptions of chivalric identity. The result in these romances is a kind of double bind, in which the protagonist is encouraged towards the very behaviors that threaten to dismantle the identity that he is trying to construct. The paper finally examines how certain chivalric narratives of the mid- to late-fourteenth century attempt to solve this double bind by projecting monstrous excess onto clerks and rustics while imagining chivalric identity as an Aristotelian balance that both accepts and rejects opposing kinds of excess.


Jamie Friedman
Kalamazoo 2010

Monster Flesh
This paper will examine the fourteenth century romance, The King of Tars, as a narrative particularly interested in exploring the intersections of self and Other in the intimate spaces of womb, bedroom, and altar. The story recounts the marriage between a Christian maiden and a Muslim sultan that effects an illicit commingling, across racial and religious boundaries, materialized in the birth of a child described as a featureless round of flesh. Elsewhere pictured as an unnatural man/animal or black/white mélange, his is the monstrous body of transgressed limits, boundaries breached, that the story’s goal is to naturalize. I would like to pay attention to this strange flesh ball child as a provocative instance of the materialization of the unexpected Other within. Far from being marginalized, the trajectory of this formless flesh occupies the center of the narrative, as it circulates through the maiden’s body, through the center of the Muslim court, through bedroom and temple, and on into its Christianized future.
This reading proposes to tease out the hermeneutic, corporeal, and identitarian potentialities mobilized in the temporary incarnation of this monstrous flesh. I maintain that the materialization of the flesh child disrupts the essentiality and stability of all racial-religious identities in the narrative – white as well as black, Christian as well as Muslim – providing the moment for the potential construction of either Christian or Saracen, male or female, human or animal selves. Attending to the strange, mobile flesh of the lump child as it circulates through the inner spaces of the narrative ultimately illustrates the identitarian productivity in the touch of monstrous flesh. While that flesh retains, however briefly, its elasticity and illegibility, it calls into question the naturalness of the identities it touches and opens a tantalizing space of corporeal and identitarian permeability and plenitude.


R. Scott Bevill
English Department - MARCO
University of Tennessee – Knoxville

ABSTRACT: But He's OUR Monster! The Monstrous Hero in Epic and Saga.
Though monstrous entities typically play the antagonistic role of 'other' in medieval literature, on occasion, the most monstrous of characters may indeed be the hero of a work. His savagery, supernatural strength or abilities, and often semi-divine origins betray his own otherness. While he works for the tribe or kingdom, defending her from internal and external threats, this awe and fear- inspiring hero is revered and praised for his heroic feats. But in some cases, his otherness is too extreme for polite society.

Grettir seems to be the likeliest candidate for this character type. His otherness is obvious from the beginning, but the townsfolk are willing to tolerate his more frightening aspects as long as he rids them of the draugr that plagues their village. Unfortunately, Grettir suffers a curse during the cleansing of the hall and soon becomes as reviled as the monsters he fights. CuChulainn's battle rage turns him into an indescribable terror, and he is unpredictably dangerous to both friend and foe during the fury of his torque. Beowulf is just as comfortable ripping off appendages of human foes as he is Grendel, but that is to be expected from a hero whose leige-lord is featured within the Liber Monstrorum. And Bendeigfran of the Mabinogion is so ridiculously huge that the Irish mistake him for a mountain swimming across the sea from Wales.

In this paper, I would like to explore how these ostensible heroes are either able to integrate and
thrive in their societies, or become anathema to the very people they initially protected.
Marla Pagan-Mattos
University of Pennsylvania

"Mary as M/Other: Motherhood and Alterity in the Cantigas de Santa María of Alfonso X"

Much of scholarly production on the medieval representation of the monstruos has identified it as a locus of alterity. The monster has been rightly perceived as a sign of otherness, a so-called “third term” against which cultural categories are constituted. Contrastingly, the construction of female as other and its relation to the cult of the Virgin Mary has been regarded mostly in terms of didactic and exemplary normativization of medieval women. However, there are aspects of the figure of Mary that are excessive, undomesticable, unfixed, and somewhat monstruos. Her position as mediator between heaven and earth, interceding for her devotees in repairing their transgressions in front of Christ, places her almost literally as a third term, analogous to that of the monsters’. That placement is based on a single enigmatic event in her life: her giving birth to the incarnate God. Thus, her becoming a mother constitutes her as an other in relation to both the earthly and the divine. The Cantigas de Santa María of Alfonso X --and its intriguing combination of text, image, and song-- in 13th-century Iberia offers several instances where Mary is portrayed as (m)other. The portrayal of motherhood in most of the miracles presents Mary as interceding in highly problematic relations between a mother and her offspring, or a mother and her pregnancy, or where the earthly mothers’ responsibilities cannot be fulfilled. In most of these miracles, Mary is presented as a subtitute mother, one that takes the place of the earthly mother and fulfills her role. She becomes literally an “other’s” mother, although she is another’s mother. In this paper I will analyze the representation of Mary’s motherhood in Cantiga 46, where she is portrayed providing nourishment to another “other,” a converted Moor.

Anne Derbes, Hood College
Amy Neff, University of Tennessee

Monstrous Blood
Satan crystallizes all that is deemed evil. In medieval art, the representation of Lucifer consistently characterizes him as the epitome of sin and monstrosity. In late thirteenth-century Italy, however, Satan’s persona undergoes significant change. Without relinquishing traditional signs of vice, Satan’s image also becomes perversely female and Jewish. One graphic sign of perversity that has not been previously noted is the depiction of Satan’s blood. Our focus is on Italian depictions of the Last Judgment, in which Satan and his minions bleed, sometimes while seemingly “giving birth” to victims, sometimes hemorrhaging from their ears, mouth, and anus. While this demonic shedding of blood is a clear subversion of Christ’s wounding, it also reflects Christian preoccupation with the eucharist and the anti-Jewish propaganda that came in its wake.
Monstrous blood is especially apparent as Satan gives birth. While Christ gives spiritual birth, the feminized body of Satan gives birth in damnation. Satan’s bleeding is not inflicted by others but comes from his own deviant physiology, exposing a shameful female body that inverts gender and the economy of salvation. We contend that stereotyped denigration of women and Jews coalesce in the image of the devil bleeding. Demonic blood issuing from the groin area reflects a virulent myth circulating in late medieval Italy: that Jewish men menstruated, their punishment for spilling the blood of Christ. This type of anti-Jewish imagery goes back at least to the late 11th century but intensified in the thirteenth with the preaching of mendicant friars. Two monuments from northeast Italy, c. 1300, vividly illustrate these concepts. The Supplicationes variae (Florence, Biblioteca Laurenziana, Plut. 25.3), dated 1293, includes perhaps the earliest depiction of Satan giving birth; the characterization of evil as perversely gendered and Jewish becomes even stronger in the Arena Chapel, Padua, painted by Giotto, 1303-1305.

Rosalyn Saunders

Monstrous and Malicious Women: Discovering the Damnable Practises of Three Notorious Witches, Joan, Margaret and Phillip Flower

In Scotland and England during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a new form of witchcraft developed that defined the witch as increasingly malevolent and diabolical. To date, most analysis of this situation has focused on the deteriorating position of women in contemporary society and their subsequent function as scapegoats for a variety of social ills. These explanations, however, do not entirely account for the creation of the monstrous witch and the particular traits inherent in her deeply unsettling character.

This paper, therefore, will focus on the characterisation of Joan Flower and her daughters in the pamphlet Witchcrafts, Strange and Wonderfull (1635), and suggest that the terrifying natures and behaviours of these three witches were informed and shaped by a continuum of monstrosity that can be traced back to an earlier monster tradition.
Although the diabolical witch had not been seen before the fourteenth century in Europe, early modern demonological writers did not create a wholly new figure; rather, they turned to an earlier tradition that equated those who violated cultural ideologies with moral inferiority, physiognomic deformities and monstrous behaviour. These general principles were overlaid onto women in order to transform them into suitably diabolical witches, a manoeuvre that upholds the importance of gender considerations in witchcraft analysis, but in a way that has been previously overlooked.

Despite their moral and physiognomic deformities, however, Joan, Margaret and Phillip were able to exist within the community as fully functioning members. Their ability to pass as ‘normals’ enabled them to not only infiltrate the community, but also the bodies of their victims: they quite literally get under the skin of their victim in order to cause harm. The pamphlet’s author appropriates elements from the monster tradition and places these uncontrolled, sexually rapacious, vindictive, and murderous witches amidst the community to affect a horrifying transition from ‘out there’ (where monsters are supposed to stay) to ‘right here’ (within the community space). They blur the boundaries between the ‘known’ and the ‘unknown’, and the reaction of society is extreme and violent because these ‘monsters’ are not in the peripheral, but local and, therefore, utterly terrifying.


Kira Robison
University of Minnesota

The Creature Within: Defining the Fiend in Medieval Anatomy

Although medieval monsters were often thought of as mythical and imaginary beasts, they could also be both human and real. This paper will explore the ways that physicians in the late fifteenth century defined monstrosity in a medical sense—as both a physical abnormality and a personality disorder using physiognomic and anatomical manuscripts. Physiognomies were texts that determined personality through particular physical structures, like the face. During the later Middle Ages, physiognomies began to appear as part of anatomical texts, a practice concerned with mapping the “normality” of the physical body, as understood through dissection of the cadaver.
The coupling of these two types of text helped the physician identify monstrousness through investigation of the physical body. They would then use the “normality” of the body, as identified in the anatomical texts, to point out “abnormal” characteristics in the person, such as wickedness, fearfulness, or insanity. Alternatively, perfectly normal-looking humans would be labeled as monsters if it was discovered upon dissection that they bore anatomical abnormalities within them. Thus, the physical body was the bearer of the monster’s mark, either as an external manifestation of an evil personality or an internal deformity.


Absent Monsters or Invisible Others: Iberian Medieval Monsters
Ana Grinberg
Department of Literature, University of California, San Diego

During the Middle Ages and from a geographical perspective, the Iberian Peninsula was the limit to the civilized world, as happens in Dante’s Inferno Canto 26, the Hereford Map, Chaucer’s Man of Law’s Tale, among others. Evidently Iberia is the Southern borderline, the periphery, the outskirts around an ideological and geographical center; and borderlines are the place where we face the monster, the other. As Michael Uebel reminds us, the borderlines are “gaps or middle places symbolizing exchange and encounter.” (Michael Uebel, “Unthinking the Monster: Twelfth-Century Responses to Saracen Alterity.” Monster Theory: Reading Culture. Ed. Jeffrey Jerome Cohen. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1996, 265.) Iberia indeed is a location where hybrid identities flourish, where other races and peoples inhabit: it is what Mary Louise Pratt calls a contact zone, a place of meeting, clashing, and grappling of disparate and asymmetrical cultures. (Mary Louise Pratt, Imperial Eyes. London: Routledge, 1992.)
Nevertheless, few medieval narratives have monsters within this location. An example is found in the Sultan of Babylon, where the Sultan Laban has three Saracen giants fighting on his side and his “chief cité” Egremoure is located in Iberian soil (717-719). (“Sultan of Babylon.” Three Middle English Charlemagne Romances: “The Sultan of Babylon,” “The Siege of Milan, and “The Tale of Ralph the Collier.” Ed. Alan Lupack. Kalamazoo, Mich.: Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University, for TEAMS, 1990.) In Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae there is “a giant of monstrous size… emerged from certain regions in Spain” (237) living in Mont Saint Michel. (Geoffrey of Monmouth. The History of the Kings of Britain. Ed. Lewis G. M. Thorpe. London: Penguin Books, 1980.) But these two examples were written from without what we nowadays call Spain. Apparently, medieval Christian Iberians were not interested in depicting monsters in their own territory. Besides the monstrous “serrana” in Juan Ruiz’s Libro de Buen Amor and Rulan’s encounter against giant Ferragudo in the 12th-century Galician translation of the Pseudo Turpin, there appears no other monster. In this paper, I will explore possible explanations to this absence. Where are the local literary monsters? I posit that the convivencia of Christians, Muslims, and Jews in Iberia gave place to a hybrid culture, itself monstrous when seen from far. If monsters are the result of a perceived difference, in the case of Iberia the (religious) other is seen as an “intimate stranger” who is too near to become monstrous.


Bodies on the Border: Human Identity and the Lump-Child in King of Tars

Stephanie Norris – The University of Iowa

This paper seizes upon a horrifying detail in The King of Tars (14thc) that distinguishes that Auchinleck romance from its analogues: the physical nature of the child born to a Christian princess wedded to a Saracen sultan. While other versions of the tale describe a fully formed child whose skin is hirsute, oddly half-hairy and half-smooth, or piebald, the King of Tars represents the progeny of this taboo interfaith marriage as a lump of flesh lacking eyes, nose, mouth and limbs. The question of how to read the presence of the lump-child has recently been engaged by Siobhan Calkin, who claims it embodies “failed or impossible” religious categorization in response to a taboo interfaith marriage and, Jane Gilbert, who argues that it allows the poet to define maternity, paternity and gender roles in the King of Tars. I propose that the presence of the lump child destabilizes traditional medieval human/animal binaries in that its physical deformity insinuates a more far-reaching question: What does it mean to be human? I invoke Giorgio Agamben’s theoretical paradigm of the anthropological machine to enrich my reading of the lump-child as a threatening identity that is neither human nor animal. For Agamben, when the human ceases to be produced and sustained by the inhuman a being “for which we have no name” emerges in that space. I assert that the lump-child triangulates the human/animal binary because it lies outside the boundaries of any category as a completely separate and unidentifiable entity. As a result of this destabilization, traditionally animalized Saracen figures seem to assume a more humanized existence. Nevertheless, the anthropological machine attempts to resume it oppressive production of Christian humanity upon the lump’s Christian baptism (and its reception of a perfect and white human form) but, in the space between the child’s birth and its conversion, this romance offers us a powerful destabilization of notions of Christianity and its Others.


Monstrous Meres and Mirrors in Anglo-Saxon Literature
Brianna K. MacLean

My paper asks how we might contextualise the physical and imaginary geography of monsters in Anglo-Saxon literature. By attempting to locate the position of monsters in the Anglo-Saxon consciousness, we can better understand heroic society by examining what they deemed culturally antithetical, how they understood figures and roles of the Other, and how they translated these understandings into narrative.

One of the most iconic monsters in Anglo-Saxon literature is Beowulf’s Grendel, who is monstrous in his corruption and manipulation of the human form. Beowulf and Grendel are polar opposites who coexist in a paradigm symbiotically; therefore, the existence of one is predicated on the existence of the other. Grendel’s applicability to humanity is more threatening to the Anglo-Saxons than the dragon’s clear separation from humanity since Grendel reflects heroic society and illustrates the human potential for monstrosity. The dragon, as an archetypal monster, cannot reflect heroic society because its form and culture are too disparate from humanity. Like Beowulf, the Liber monstrorum and the Wonders of the East also feature monstrous corruptions of humanity, rather than strictly archetypal monsters. Jeffrey Jerome Cohen argues that the monstrous body is pure culture, a projection of society that exists only to be read. In this light, monsters are a byproduct of culture, necessary to define what it means to be human by revealing meaning, rather than producing it. Thus, monsters are not at the edges of the map, as they were often depicted, but rather at the core of heroic society, functioning as a catalyst for heroic deeds and a reflection of society itself. This presents a disparity between the physical geography of monsters, as illustrated in maps and literature, and the imaginary or cultural spaces that they occupy in the Anglo-Saxon consciousness.


Unexpected Monsters in an Unexpected Place: Representing the Marginal in a Portuguese Medieval Tomb
Marisa COSTA
Scientific researcher (History of Science and Technology Center – University of Lisbon)
Ph.D. Student in Medieval History (University of Lisbon)

The Braga cathedral, in Portugal, owns in its treasure a tomb from the fifteenth century which commemorates Prince Afonso (1390-1400), first-born son of King João I and heir to the Portuguese throne. Although this monument is little known, it is of exceptional quality and European importance, since it combines a series of unique features, totally unprecedented in Portuguese art.
The tomb comprises a gilt, cast copper-alloy effigy of the prince lying on a draped cloth. His face is silvered as is the inside of his tunic’s pleats. The tomb chest supporting the effigy has a wooden core entirely covered with gilded copper friezes and plates richly embossed with vegetal elements, like trees with thick trunks and long branches, as well as zoomorphic elements, like birds, monkeys, hounds, stags, lions, and mythical creatures.
Yet, in this visual form, such medieval natural world is shared by a prolific variety of unexpected beasts. In fact, the plates also show a world inhabited by peculiar hybrids, drolleries and grotesques, wild men and other ‘homines monstruosis’. They display the characteristic marginal world that medieval imagination created and gathered in artistic repertoires rooted in literary sources like fables, travelogues and bestiaries, as in encyclopedias, Fathers of the Church’ texts, the Bible, and, ultimately, classical writings.
Similar representations of otherness and monstrosity within medieval culture normally appear in liminal spaces, like manuscripts margins and borders, ceiling bosses or misericords, in order to entertain viewers, suggest moral interpretations or symbolize the edges of civilization. In this instance, however, unexpected monsters emerge in a surprising, unexpected place as it is the set of tomb chest plates. The aim of this paper is therefore to examine the purposes of such animal imagery, assessing its iconography, its stylistic features and its artistic inspiration.

The Onocentaurus and the Cardinal, or: Distinguised Monsters in 16th-century Venice
Edina Eszenyi, PhD student
University of Kent School of History

The career of the onocentaurus, a.k.a. ass-centaur, has been long and dubious since its appearance in Greek mythology. Certain versions of the Physiologus, as well as Icelandic and early English Bestiaries still made mention of him, yet later he gradually gave place to more popular colleagues merging man and animal, like the centaur or the siren. The appearance of the monster has been even more sporadic in Early Modern times, an example of which is his inclusion in the Aureum rosarium theologiae of the Hungarian Pelbertus de Themeswar.

The presentation deals with the figure of the onocentaurus in the late-sixteenth century angel and demon lexicon of Vincenzo Cicogna, a supposed family member of the contemporary Doge of Venice. The lexicon is entitled Angelorvm et daemonvm nomina et attribvta… (Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute MS 86-A866). It interprets 223 particular and metaphorical references to angels and demons, and ends with a treatise on the parallel of the angelic and ecclesiastical hierarchies, which compares cardinal bishops to fallen angels. Meanwhile, the piece was dedicated right to a cardinal bishop, namely Giulio Antonio Santori, the single most influential member of ecclesiastical circles of his time. As Prefect of the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition he participated in such heresy processes as those against Giordano Bruno, was personal consultant of seven popes, and himself a candidate for papacy in 1592.

While medieval authors compared the onocentaurus to religious deviants, he is a metaphor for demons in Cicogna’s lexicon. The presentation is to explore this monster’s transformation and re-contextualization through eras and cultures til his arrival in realms of the Inquisition.