Animals and Otherness in the Middle Ages. Perspectives across disciplines

Animals and Otherness in the Middle Ages cover (Arceopress 2013)

Animals and Otherness in the Middle Ages cover (Arcehopress 2013)

This publication has its origin in the colloquium Animals and Otherness in the Middle Ages held at the Faculty of Geography and History at Complutense University in Madrid in February 2011. This publication aims to bring together scholars from a range of disciplines to consider the diverse use of animals in constructions of ‘otherness’. It encompasses not only conceptualized difference, but also physical societal differences expressed in the varied treatment of real and imagined animals. The contributions also discuss the use of animals to emphasize contrast more broadly, such as the juxtaposition between good and evil, or positive and negative features.
The colloquium was organized by the Medieval Animal Data Network and the Universitad Complutense de Madrid, by Francisco de Asís García García, Mónica Ann Walker Vadillo and María Victoria Chico Picaza.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations and Tables 3

Preface: The MADNESS Continues, 7 Alice Choyke

Acknowledgements 11

Animals and Otherness in the Middle Ages: An Overview from the Garden of Eden, 13
Francisco de Asís García García, Mónica Ann Walker Vadillo and María Victoria Chico Picaza

I. Animalia Extranea et Stupenda ad Videndum. Describing and Naming Exotic Beasts in Cairo Sultan’s Menagerie, 25
Thierry Buquet
The description of exotic animals (African or Asiatic beasts as seen in European medieval context) is an interesting paradigm of otherness, especially in the construction of the image of the oriental world. Zoological marvels coming from India or Ethiopia were not imaginary beasts, but real animals that could be observed in nature or in Egyptian menageries. The paper studies three aspects of the description of foreign animals (especially elephants, giraffes, and other big animals) by occidental pilgrims:
1. The difficulty of describing the unknown, whether in zoological terms (detailing the external features of the animals), or in more affective terms (surprise, marvel, emotion);
2. The problem of naming unknown animals, whence the adoption of Arabic zoonyms;
3. The choice of species in the menageries selected for description in the travel account.

II. From the Vita Pauli to the Legenda Breviarii: Real and Imaginary Animals as a Guide to the Hermit in the Desert, 35
Laura Fenelli
In this contribution we shall analyse the role of some animal figures in a select group of texts, the Vita Antonii composed by Athanasius, the Vita Pauli written by Jerome, and then some texts from the eleventh, thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, which are based on the life of the first hermit Paul. This small group of texts will help us to reflect on the specific relationship between Anthony and some peculiar animals (real and imaginary) who guide him into the desert, in search of his old companion Paul. More specifically, by exploring how notions of ‘otherness’ are presented in these texts, which chart a trajectory that runs from Late Antiquity to the Middle Ages, the following study will elucidate how the relationship between the hermit and animals changed through the centuries.

III. Animals and Otherness in Mamluk Egypt and Syria, 49
Yehoshua Frenkel
Descriptions of animals and interactions between man and nature are a common topic in Islamic literature. A range of sources depict a holistic picture of universe and illustrate it by stories on mankind communication with the fauna and flora. Mamluk period (1250–1517) literature and other sources reflect the complex place of animals in society and in world view. The vision of the fauna was deeply rooted in contemporary world vision. It was believed that the universe is inhabited not only by human beings but also by mysterious creatures. Among the living things that encountered men and women were animals. The spectrum moves from deep fear to seeing the talking creatures as a source of knowledge and wisdom. The study of haunting account, capture of animals and their staging is an appropriate point of departure to acquire a better understanding of Mamluks’ outlook on fauna. This will be followed by an investigation of the animal presence in Mamluk crafts and objet d’art. The range is stretching between sculpturing of mighty lions to forbidding the backing of animals shaped dough. The third section will concentrate on animal stories, i.e. on stories that tell on talking beasts. This line of investigation will enable me to generalize on the role of animals in Mamluk period discourse, and particularly to concentrate on their opposing functions. On the one hand animals served as a source of wisdom that confirmed the belief system. Yet on the other hand animals were depicted as a force that is threatening society.

IV. Avicenna’s Philosophy of the Animal Soul in Context, 63
David González Ginocchio
This paper examines Avicenna’s reliance on both philosophy and medicine to explain the animal soul. Avicenna’s psychology is still relevant to discuss the foundations of normative and intentional theories. Three main points of interest are reviewed:
1. His Neoplatonic-metaphysical account of the animal soul (underlining his similarities with the human soul, and thus disproving a purely materialistic theory of animal psychology);
2. His medical and physiological account of perception and his construction of an animal psychology (with a special emphasis on his account of perceptive intentions);
3. Some remarks about his influence in later authors.

V. Dogs and Human Relationship Between Solidarity and Otherness in the Leges Barbarorum, 75
Marco Iuffrida
Starting out from the basic fact that, in the early medieval culture inherited from Roman law, a dog was defined as a ‘non productive’ animal, my paper will analyze the relationship between man and dog through a novel interpretative grid informed by the legal approach adopted by a complex assemblage of barbarians (Visigoths, Franks, Burgundians, Frisians etc.). Solidarity or otherness? Examination of the early medieval Leges barbarorum (fifth to ninth centuries) has facilitated a pragmatic and fact-based assessment of humanity’s fraught and somewhat haphazard attempts at understanding and defining the status of its relations with domestic animals such as dogs. This analysis also allows us to bring to light the new roles that increased the significance of the dog in daily life (different types of dogs listed, i.e. barmbraccus, petrunculus, canis acceptoricius, triphunt, hovawart, etc.).

VI. Draconcopedes, or, the Faces of Devilish Virgins, 85
Gerhard Jaritz
Discourses about Eden’s serpent, its type, outer appearance, and actions can be found in a rich number. There, also the draconcopedes played an important role: in Beda Venerabilis, Adelinus, the Liber de natura rerum, Konrad von Megenberg’s Book of Nature, the Hortus Sanitatis, etc. The textual descriptions of draconcopedes tell that they are big and powerful serpents living in Greece. They can have the face of a human virgin and the body of a dragon. It is said that it was this serpent by which Eve was seduced in Paradise. This article concentrates on the visual representations of the draconcopedes (mainly those that can be found in the Central European areas), and their possible recipients.

VII. Animal Fables Set among the Biblical Cycle of the Nave of Saint-Savin-Sur-Gartempe, 95
Delia Kottmann
This article treats of some animals in the Romanesque murals dating to around 1100 on the nave of the abbey church in Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe (situated in the Vienne department of Poitou-Charentes region, western France), showing a biblical cycle of Genesis and Exodus. Yet, what is unusual in this religious cycle is the depiction of secular scenes featuring animals. In the middle of the cycle one finds these scenes, nonexistent in the original biblical text, that show a human being climbing a tree, an animal hanging on the treetop and another one on the ground – seeming to bark to the other one – and an episode of an Aesopian fable, the fox and the raven. Do they express a uniquely moral appeal?

VIII. The Dragon’s Skull: How Can Zooarchaeologists Contribute to our Understanding of Otherness in the Middle Ages? 109
Aleksander Pluskowski
Perspectives of the ‘other’ in medieval European society have been almost exclusively constructed and debated by historians, literary historians and art historians within medieval studies. The ‘other’ was defined, in part, through definitions of the normative. Within Christian theology, animals were separated from humans, although some were more familiar than others, and the true ‘monsters’ lived beyond the realm of individual experience; whether in a lake or some remote land. People who crossed these cosmic boundaries (or were perceived as crossing this boundary through their projected appearance or behaviour) were by definition ‘monstrous.’ Since zooarchaeologists are concerned with animals, conceptually separated from humans within medieval Christian society, they are well placed to contribute to our understanding of otherness. This paper explores how the study of animal bones, and the material practices associated with responses to other species, can build on the foundations of existing scholarship on otherness, alterity and monstrosity.

IX. Snake Pernicious and Venomous. The Malicious and Dangerous Other in Medieval Bulgarian and Early Modern Charms, 125
Svetlana Tsonkova
This article is based on medieval and early modern Bulgarian charms. Through comparison and contrast, the article presents and explores a specific verbal magical method of preventing snake bite, namely through calling the snake with a number of various names. The list of names is a central element in the charms and plays important roles: to conjure the snake, to describe it as a dangerous enemy, to declare the knowledge and power of user of the charm and finally to provide a verbal magical instrument for defeating the snake. Also known in a number of other cultures, such lists of names rely on the power of words for protection against serious dangers. Also, they provide an insight on the ambivalent South-Slavic attitudes towards an animal, which is seen as physical everyday presence, but also as carrier of harm and symbol of otherness.

X. Ambiguous Figures of Otherness: Redoubtable Beasts in Princely Badges of the Late Middle Ages, 133
Olga Vassilieva-Codognet
This paper addresses the symbolism of redoubtable beasts in princely heraldic badges of the late Middle Ages. It consists of three parts: first, a quantitative study of 894 heraldic badges dating from 1370 to 1520 which allows to apprehend the population and evolution of redoubtable beasts occurring in these badges; second, a series of four case-studies, namely Giangaleazzo Visconti’s leopard, Jean de Berry’s bear, Richard III’s boar and Louis XII’s porcupine, in order to shed light on the relationship between a prince and his emblematic animal; third, a study of the animal badges that can be found in the first modern treaty on heraldic badges, namely Paolo Giovio’s Dialogo dell’imprese militari e amorose (Rome: Antonio Barre, 1555), in order to discover the metamorphosis of the medieval heraldic badge into the early modern times.

Editors and Contributors 151

Book available at Archeopress website

Cite this blog post
MAD (2013, June 11). Animals and Otherness in the Middle Ages. Perspectives across disciplines. Medieval Animal Data-Network. Retrieved April 17, 2024, from

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