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While automata appear in medieval European textual sources in many different settings, they frequently cluster around tombs, memorials and other places associated with the dead. In several different literary examples, automata expose the unstable definitions of ‘life’ and ‘death’ and reveal contemporary ideas about the complexity and permeability of these categories.

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  1. See Abbreviations (below) for a list of abbreviations of primary literary works cited throughout this essay.

  2. Thomas's tale only exists in 10 fragments, two of which are now lost. The episode with the statues exists in the (now lost) Turin fragment. See Thomas of Britain (1991, ix–xi). There is, however, an Old Norse translation by a monk, Robert, of Thomas’ Tristran, known as the Tristansage, which dates from 1226. Textual scholars have noted that this Old Norse translation is the best translation of Thomas’ entire work, as it contains the only complete direct narrative of the events in Thomas’ Tristran. See Bédier (1905); Hatto (1960); Kölbing (1978); Loomis (1931); and Schach (1973). The chapters relating to the Hall of Statues exist completely in the Old Norse Tristrams Saga ok Ísondar and partially in the Turin fragment of Thomas’ Tristran.


  • Bédier, J. 1905. Le Roman de Trisan par Thomas, poème du XIIe siècle, Vol. 2. Paris: Firmin-Didot.

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  • Hatto, A.T., ed. and trans. 1960. Gottfried von Strassburg: Tristan, with the surviving fragments of the Tristran of Thomas. New York: Penguin.

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  • Kölbing, E., ed. and trans. 1978 [1878]. Die nordische Version der Tristan Sage. Hildesheim, Germany: Georg Olms Verlag.

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  • Loomis, R., trans. 1931. The Romance of Tristram and Ysolt by Thomas of Britain, translated from the Old French and the Old Norse. New York: Columbia University Press.

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  • Schach, P., ed. and trans. 1973. The Saga of Tristram and Ísönd. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.

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  • Thomas of Britain. 1991. Tristran, ed. and trans. Stewart Gregory. New York: Garland Publishing.

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Truitt, E. Fictions of life and death: Tomb automata in medieval romance. Postmedieval 1, 194–198 (2010).

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