Bad Animals and Faithful Beasts in Bevis of Hampton
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- Eckert, K.D. Neophilologus (2013) 97: 581. doi:10.1007/s11061-012-9325-1
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Most medieval Europeans lived closely alongside animals in a way modern city-dwellers do not, and unsurprisingly the literature features animals in debate poems and fabliaux. Animals even receive their own literary subgenre, the bestiary. The popular Auchinleck Manuscript romance Bevis of Hampton (c. 1330) similarly features animals charged with spiritual significations. The Bevis poet does not let his fauna talk, at times stressing their animality in realistic touches—lions get hungry—yet also gives them moral agency, personifying and endowing them with fantastic and deadly powers. Dragons are “real” in the story and live for centuries without aging and fly between countries. Beyond having narrative functions, the animals of Bevis symbolize the themes of the poem and the spiritual choices and trials which Bevis repeatedly faces.