Chapter 1 An Epistemology of Wonder

  • Jan Shaw
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


“An Epistemology of Wonder” argues that, even before the main narrative begins, the intrinsic prologue of Melusine invokes authoritative discourses to construct a taxonomy of being that destabilizes entrenched hierarchies of gender. At first glance this taxonomy appears to tap into the prevailing cultural narratives of alterity, which work to ontologically negate the “other” (gender, cultural, racial, religious others, and so on), but it reworks the hierarchy by pressing into service a discourse of divinely inspired wonder. Drawing parallels between Bourdieu, Gothic architecture, and medieval philosophy, Shaw argues for a textual habitus that encourages the reader to proactively engage with a discourse of medieval wonder. These ideas are demonstrated in a reading of the Boar Hunt episode.


Ontological Difference Creation Story Medieval Philosophy Authoritative Discourse Privileged Knowledge 
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There are many discourses at work in the tale of Melusine; historical, political, and clerical discourses operate alongside the discourses of literature of the imagination. It is the discourse of wonder, however, that takes center stage, drawing the reader into the work from the opening paragraphs, dominating the making of meaning in the text. All other discourses play second fiddle to the discourse of wonder. Most notable is the treatment of clerical discourse, which if left untended might suggest biblical readings of Melusine’s hybrid form, particularly her serpentine tail. Instead, religious discourse is tackled head on, reworked and incorporated into the discourse of wonder. Wonder is legitimized through an alignment with God and His marvels; it is explicitly elevated above knowledge as merely human. The result is an overarching epistemology that privileges Melusine’s ontological ambiguity not only as wondrous but also as “close to God,” while human knowledge is grounded firmly in the mundane. This chapter teases out the construction of this epistemology through a close examination of the taxonomy of being, outlined in the first paragraphs of the intrinsic prologue, and a consideration of the episode of the Boar Hunt. No fairies or other marvelous creatures are present in the Boar Hunt, and yet wonder prevails over the apparent certainties of human knowledge. It is evident, therefore, that the operation of wonder is not rarefied within the realm of God’s marvels; it spills over into the higher reaches of privileged human knowledge. The Boar Hunt demonstrates that wonder precedes all other ways of knowing, whether human or divine. This is the only certainty in the tale of Melusine and one ignores it at one’s peril.

Prologues, the Habitus, and Magical Objects

There is a long rhetorical tradition that grants prologues significatory weight. Since classical times they have been used as a way to engage the reader through appeal and exhortation, even banter and innuendo. 1 These persuasive and attention-getting devices were often coupled with legitimating techniques such as reference to a person of high status, perhaps an auctor or illustrious patron. As part of the extrinsic prologue, these techniques focused outside the text; the intrinsic prologue, on the other hand, turned its attention inward, offering justification for and explanation of the text. 2 The intrinsic prologue might include a statement of the purpose of the text, an introduction to the subject matter, and a breakdown of content in an orderly and systematic manner. Consider, for example, the opening lines of “The Wife of Bath’s Prologue”:

Experience, though noon auctoritee

Were in this world, is right y-nough for me

To speke of wo that is in mariage (ll. 1–3) 3

These first words signal to the reader the key issues in the Prologue itself and the following Tale: traditional modes of knowledge production will be challenged, and the main topic under consideration will be gender relations within the married state. In the text that follows the Wife destroys books, a court of women tries a man for rape, and the overarching question throughout is “what do women want?” The answer to this question, in both the Prologue and the Tale, is the same, and it is found at the end of the first line of the Prologue: “auctoritee.” 4

The prologue builds a relationship between the text/narrator and the reader; it positions the reader in relation to the text, asserting legitimacy and authority for the narrator and establishing a particular mode of engagement with the text that follows. In his discussion of academic prologues, Alastair Minnis finds that the intrinsic prologue was designed “to lead” the reader into the text. 5 While the extrinsic prologue introduces the science or art that provides the context of production of the text, the intrinsic prologue describes the details of the process of the science or art as it is to be enacted upon a particular text. As such, the intrinsic prologue can set an epistemological trajectory for the work, establishing frameworks of interpretation to guide the reader to the preferred reading.

While to the modern reader this approach might seem unduly structuralist or predictory, it does represent a certain medieval habitus. In his influential work Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism, Erwin Panofsky proposed that, in the High Middle Ages, there existed a collective “mental habit” within the learned community, including “almost every mind engaged in cultural pursuits,” that betrayed a passion for system and order. 6 This mental habit, honed in the treatises of Scholasticism (Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica being the exemplar) and disseminated through the schools and universities, had two “controlling principles” (30). Panofsky identified the core feature of the first, manifestatio, as “clarification for clarification’s sake” (39). The second was concordantia: “the acceptance and ultimate reconciliation of contradictory possibilities” (64), particularly through dialectical reasoning. Panofsky found evidence of this mental habit in architecture, music, painting, and throughout cultural production. His connection between Scholasticism and Gothic architecture has attracted some criticism, particularly in art history circles; 7 but these criticisms are usually based upon a search for concrete evidence, from drawings or commentaries for example, that medieval architects used Scholastic models. 8 At a theoretical level Panofsky’s work has proved less problematic, being taken up outside the discipline and developed into a semiology of space by Jesse Gellrich, and—most significantly for my argument—Panofsky’s notion of the “mental habit” was integral to Pierre Bourdieu’s articulation of the habitus. 9 For Bourdieu Panofsky’s “mental habit” instantiates a higher level of cultural operation, in which cultural products become part of a system of meaning that reproduces itself through individuals with a high level of cultural literacy. The resultant products and the methods of composition can both be understood as “cultural symbols.” Transmitted through formal education, Scholasticism was a mental habit that produced a collective unconscious, or subconscious, that self-replicated throughout learned medieval culture.

To relate the works of a period with practices derived from a school of thought is to give oneself one of the means to explain not only what they claim, but also what they betray in so far as they partake of the symbolics of an epoch and a society. (Bourdieu, 230)

The habitus is, therefore, not necessarily consciously reproduced. The presence or absence of documented evidence of Scholastic procedures in Gothic architecture is, therefore, less important than the identification of patterns in both the process and the product.

Bourdieu further elaborates upon Scholasticism as a cultural habitus, teasing out the role of the individual in this system. On the one hand, the cultural habitus is collective, necessarily manifesting itself in the individual. Individual creativity is thereby problematized to the extent that individuality and the community are codependent. On the other hand, Bourdieu argues that a “singular habitus” is still possible. This singular habitus is neither irreducibly individual nor a pre-determined cultural form but the result of a range of influences including education, the individual’s social location coupled with the cultural meanings of their experiences, and personal attributes, culminating in a potentially unique life story. The singular habitus is the “unification and explanation of this set of apparently disparate conducts that constitute a life as one…a systematic biography.” 10 The singular habitus remains circumscribed by the cultural habitus, but there is scope for difference within the community of individuals. My purpose here is to make explicit the habitus that guided the medieval reader into the text of Melusine: that singular habitus betrayed by the intrinsic prologue.

Of course the medieval habitus, both collective and individual, is not wholly described by the systems of order so valued by Scholasticism. As Bourdieu notes, such an approach would limit interpretation to the “methodological,” the “formal,” the “concrete,” the “face value of the phenomena.” 11 It must be acknowledged, for example, that the splendor of the Gothic cathedral, even if it is the superlative instantiation of the Scholastic medieval habitus, is also evidence of superior aesthetic sensibility and extraordinary building skill. Further, the play of light, soaring arches, multiple chapels, colonnades, and complex processional spaces are more than a reflection of design and artisanship: they are a display of enormous wealth and power. While we can only imagine how medieval audiences would have experienced these complex forces, at the very least they must have induced the affective responses of wonder and awe. For Roland Barthes, Gothic cathedrals were

the supreme creation of an era, conceived with passion by unknown artists, and consumed in image if not in usage by a whole population which appropriates them as a purely magical object. 12

For Barthes, this “magical object” is “perfection.” Outside genealogical history its passionate conception “transforms life into matter,” infusing the stone with chthonic residues. Simultaneously “a closure and a brilliance,” it has an inward orientation that contains as it bedazzles. It is “a silence which belongs to the realm of fairy-tales”: in other words, not a silence that is still, quiet, or at peace but one that is in almost fearful suspense, waiting to be filled, wanting to be satiated. The Gothic cathedral, in its intricate detail and fine tracery, in its magnificence, and verticality, has been carefully and deliberately built from the ground up (and up). For Barthes it has simultaneously “fallen from the sky.” In this way the triumph of medieval system and order is overlaid with wonder.

The singular habitus of the intrinsic prologue of Melusine is similarly an imbrication of system and order with wonder. The taxonomy of being, introduced in the intrinsic prologue as a systematic approach to knowledge, contains an internal paradox that problematizes that very knowledge. The result is the development of an epistemology of wonder that overrides the certainty that systems apparently provide. The text thereby evidences a medieval habitus that had ample room to celebrate order and wonder simultaneously.

The Intrinsic Prologue of Melusine

Dauid the prophete saith, that the Iuggements and the punysshinges of god ben as abysmes without bottom & without ryuage. And he is not wyse that suche thinges supposeth to comprehende in his wit/ & weneth that the meruaylles that ben thrugh the vniuersal world, may nat be true, as it is said of the thinges that men calle ffayrees/ and as it is of many other thinges wherof we may not haue the knowleche of alle them. Now thenne the Creature ought nat therfore for to traueille, by outrageous presumyng to knowe & to comprehende in his wit & vnderstanding the Iugements of god/but men oughten/ thinkynge/to be meruaylled of hym/and meruaylling/to considere/how they may worthily & deuoutly prayse and glorify hym that Iugith so, and ordeynith suche thinges after hys plaisure & wille without eny gaynseying. (p. 2, l. 21–p. 3, l. 3) 13

In this opening paragraph 14 four classes of being are presented: God, “Dauid the prophete,” the “Creature” that is man, and “ffayrees.” Reminiscent of a great chain of being, this apparently simple structure resonates with the Scholastic habitus, particularly in its finely tuned categorical delineations. Panofsky described three requirements for the manifestatio of Scholastic writing. The first was “totality”: an attempt to approximate “one perfect and final solution…with everything in its place and that which no longer found its place, suppressed” (44–45); the second, an “arrangement according to a system of homologous parts and parts of parts” (31), in which “uniform division and subdivision” (45) can be easily discerned and arranged in a “hierarchy of logical levels” (47); and the third, “distinctiveness and deductive cogency” (49–50), in which each individual element must “proclaim their identity by remaining clearly separated from each other” (50). The taxonomy found in the intrinsic prologue of Melusine comprises four categories that are homologous, hierarchically and proportionally arranged, and each category is distinct from the others, thereby presenting an easily recognizable system of order that the Scholastic habitus of the medieval mind would find comfortably familiar. The taxonomy presents an elegant progression of relations to time and space, forming a particular hierarchy of knowledge.
As noted above, the most obvious categorical property is that of being. God, prophets, “man,” 15 and fairies fall into three categories of being which are identified by their “nature.” God is the divine: He is immediately at the head of any hierarchy, He is untouchable and in a category all His own. Fairies are one of God’s marvels: they are the physical manifestation of God’s wonder on earth, and their nature is marvelous. The prophet and man are both men. Prophets and men, however, are differentiated from one another even in this first paragraph. Prophets are mouthpieces of God, speaking His words to men, whereas men (should only) speak their own humble words of devotion to Him. A further distinction between learned and unlearned men is teased out in the second paragraph of the intrinsic prologue where the concept of the auctor is developed.

As saynct paule seyth in thepistle that he made to the Rommains/sayeng in this manere/ that the thinges that he hath doon, shalbe knowen & seen by the Creatures of the world/that is to wete, by the men that can rede & adiousten feyth to þactoures whiche haue ben byfore vs/as to wete & knowe the landes, the prouinces & the straunge Countrees. (p. 3, ll. 8–15)

By aligning “feyth” with auctores, by collapsing together auctores and prophets within the Christian framework of the tale, the text implies that all special knowledge is a gift from God. The knowledge of the ancients, like Aristotle, or the knowledge of those who have seen the marvels of God in exotic far off lands is aligned with the revelatory knowledge of the prophets. What differentiates the auctor from the unlearned man is, therefore, as expected, privileged knowledge. The text, therefore, makes a neat symmetry of two on each side of the worldly/otherworldly divide by making a proportional hierarchy thus:


God’s marvels


prophets and auctores

unlearned man

To determine whether the categories of God and His marvels can be organized in a way similar to prophets/auctores and the unlearned man it is helpful to examine their relations with space and time:

the Iuggements and the punysshinges of god ben as abysmes without bottom & without ryuage (p. 2, ll. 21–23)

as he is without ryuage & without bottom/soo are the thinges meruayllous & wounderfull in many dyuerse landes (p. 3, ll. 18–20)

Space is a key marker of categorical difference in the text. God, His punishments, and His marvels, are like abysses without bottom or edge. These abysses are without discernible boundaries: they have no surfaces and therefore are not contained or closed; they do not define a place. God has no shape whatsoever. He cannot be seen or determined except as open and without boundary. Some of His marvels, however, do manifest themselves physically: “somme called Gobelyns/the other ffayrees, and the other ‘bonnes dames’ or good ladyes” (p. 4, ll. 7–9). But these manifestations are only apparitions: “somme other fauntasyes appyeren…in lyknes of wymen with old face” (p. 4, ll. 18–20); “fayrees toke somtyme the fourme & the fygure of fayre & yonge wymen.” Some are explicit shape-shifters: “tourned into serpentes” (p. 5, l. 8); “tourned in to a serpent” (p. 6, l. 1). God’s marvels are spatially indeterminate. They are without fixed surfaces and remain open and subject to change. Man, on the other hand, occupies a closed and unchanging space. His surface is (relatively speaking) closed and unchanging, or changing only in a predictable way (through the processes of maturation and aging).

In addition to different relations to space, different categorical relations to time also become evident. 16 At one extreme is God, who is beyond temporal existence. Fairies, as is made explicit in the episode of Melusine and her mother Pressine, operate outside the constraints of human time. While they can participate in the human cycle of procreation (Pressine and Melusine both bear children to their human husbands), their rate of maturation, morbidity, and decay is unclear. We never hear of the decline of Pressine, and the longevity of her daughters is connected with the particular roles to which they are assigned. However, like humans, they are subject to God’s final judgment. Prophets, and other auctores, also transcend human time at least in one respect. David the prophet, whose words have the greatest auctoritas, is dead, but he still exists in his words and his name, which are inscribed in Christian history. All auctores, whether Christian or pagan, transcend the annihilation that is death, at least to the degree that their names and the words attributed to them survive. Further, the older the auctor, the greater the auctoritas of the work attributed to him; the ancients were venerated to such a degree that they were believed to be, according to Richard of Bury (Bishop of Durham 1333–1345), more physically and mentally capable than the men of the day. 17 The unlearned man, who is subject to the transience of purely human temporality and mortality, is at the bottom of the hierarchy.

Space and time can indicate a relationship with knowledge. If the boundaries, surfaces, exteriors, or interiors of a space can be determined, then the space becomes definable to some degree and therefore similarly knowable. The contained and stable space is therefore more knowable than one which is continually changing through an unfamiliar and possibly indeterminate time. In this way, in terms of space and time, man is more knowable than God, who is without boundary or surface, or His marvels, whose spatial parameters may change through the smallest increments of time. This connection between knowledge and closure is explicated in the text in the first paragraph, where the only knowledge on offer to man is the knowledge of himself, of his own incapacity to know God. Man, as a subject of knowledge, is contained within his own category.

These relations to space, time, and knowledge form an incremental progression. The space of the unlearned man is closed and his time is strictly limited; the prophets have an extended temporality; the fairies have both an extended temporality and spatial indeterminacy; God is unbounded in space and infinite in time. The unlearned man is both knowable and unknowing (he is mistaken in his presumption to know God); the auctor is knowable (as a man) and knowing (of his limitations); the marvels of God are perceivable as momentary surface; God is inscrutable. 18 Therefore, in relation to space, time, and knowledge, the four categories are arranged in a hierarchical, proportionate, and harmonious manner. Moreover, the occurrence of the same variables within each category has the effect of delineating structures which are morphologically equivalent (each being has a relationship with space, time, and knowledge) and therefore homologous.

Two interesting points can be drawn from the singular habitus delineated here. First, while the reader is implicitly positioned by the text as knowing and aware through the recognition of the systems of order at work in the opening taxonomy, they are at the same time explicitly positioned by that taxonomy as unknowing: “he is not wyse that suche thinges supposeth to comprehende in his wit” (p. 2, ll. 23–24). Further, they are admonished not to attempt to know: “the Creature ought nat therfore for to traueille,” for such an attempt is “outrageous presumyng” (p. 2, ll. 29–30). Rather, they should accept God’s marvels on earth: “the meruaylles that ben thrugh the vniuersal world” (p. 2, ll. 25–26), they should wonder at these marvels and at God Himself: “be meruaylled of hym” (p. 2, ll. 32–33), without questioning or “gaynseying” (p. 3, l. 3). The reader is therefore positioned to accept what is to come in the text: not to question, but to be “meruaylled.” This somewhat paradoxical position emphasizes the privilege lent to the intrinsic prologue in positioning the reader in relation to the text and leading him or her into the text in a particular way from that location.

Second, while the unlearned man is at the bottom of the hierarchy, marvels and wonders are located next to God. The marvels and wonders in this text are associated with the fairy realm and the fairies and half fairies who cross from that world into this. The fairy realm in medieval romance is conventionally an otherworld that runs parallel to the real world, rather than in a hierarchal relation with it. In romance the fairy realm and its inhabitants tend to sustain a residue of ambiguity that is rarely resolved. Fairy creatures are not necessarily good or bad, indeed they can be unaccountably both in the course of one narrative. They often have special knowledge, including that of magic and divination, and they can move between that world and this, bringing their powers with them. 19 In the text of Melusine the eponymous heroine is such a figure: she is half fairy, raised in the otherworld of Avalon, and she has special knowledge and magical powers that are transportable into this world. The difference in this text is that the taxonomy presented in the intrinsic prologue explicitly privileges Melusine and the fairy otherworld from which she comes. Rather than being parallel in an otherworld, fairies are located above humankind in a hierarchy of being. This is perhaps most startling when compared with more orthodox constructions of the great chain of being. In Melusine God’s marvel and wonders, including fairies, are between God and humanity, and as such take the place of Angels in Aquinas, of celestial bodies (planets, stars, etc.) in Aristotle, or ideas and universals in Neoplatonism. 20 The link is the spiritual, the immaterial, the abstract, the unreachable, and untouchable; in other words, the unknowable. It is a significant elevation, shifting the fairy otherworld into a realm that is almost divine.

It would seem that this singular habitus sets up particular kind of epistemology, but rather than establishing a different kind of relationship with knowledge, this epistemology is based upon a relationship with a different kind of knowledge. The taxonomy developed in the intrinsic prologue, as outlined above, privileges learned knowledge only in the human realm below the line. Above the line, in the divine realm of God, wonder and the marvelous are privileged beyond knowledge (in its usual conception). Caroline Walker Bynum has identified a number of characteristics of medieval wonder, many of which strongly resonate with this text. 21 These characteristics position wonder as both a cognitive response and as an ontological category. Wonder is a response to facticity: only apparently real events and things can induce wonder. It is a response to the singular and the multiplicity of singularity, or diversity, in the world. It is also perspectival and nonappropriative. Wonder can be positioned as the first step to learned knowledge, but if wonder is not induced by “natural” causes, then it is not on the spectrum of learning. In this case wonder is ontologically different from learned knowledge and so is ultimately not accessible by human understanding.

The privileging of wonder in the intrinsic prologue is explicated through intertwining references to wonder with a variety of authoritative discourses, particularly emphasizing the discourse of truth. After the introduction of the taxonomy (p. 2), in the following two paragraphs further references to Aristotle, St Paul, and Adam are intermingled with other legitimating terms such as “science,” “true” and “trew” (x2), “hystory” (x2), “true Cronykes,” and “the playsure of god” (pp. 3–4). Embedded within this discourse of truth are references to “meruaylles” (p. 2, ll. 16, 28) and “thinges meruayllous & wounderfull” (20), lending these concepts a similar legitimacy. In other words, marvels and wonders are real things and events. 22 By extension, then, wonder is a response to real things in the real world, but it is not the same as knowledge, which tends to contain within precise boundaries or definitions, or reveal with a full explication of intricacies. As outlined above, wonder can be imagined as spatially open in contrast to the closed space of knowledge and knowability. In this way, wonder can be understood as nonappropriative: it is an experience that remains unexplained; indeed, it is an acknowledgment of the inexplicable.

The privilege accorded to the experience of wonder is further developed through the alignment of travelers and travel writers with “þactoures”:

þactoures whiche haue ben byfore vs/as to wete & knowe the landes, the prouinces & the straunge Countrees. and to haue ouerseen & vysyted the dyuerse Royaumes/haue founde so many of dyuerse meruaylles aftir common exstimacion, that thumayn vnderstanding is constrayned of god/that soo as he is without ryuage & without bottom/soo are the thinges meruayllous & wounderfull in many dyuerse landes. aftir their dyuerse nature. (p. 3, ll. 13–21)

The knowledge of “þactoures” is positioned here as empirical and carries with it all the limitations of empirical knowledge. On the one hand, as this knowledge is gained through first-hand perception it thereby carries the legitimacy of the “eye-witness” account of primary evidence: they have “ouerseen & vysyted,” “founde” distant countries and the marvels within them. On the other hand, these eye-witness accounts are necessarily individual, and as such they are constrained by personal perspective. This suggests that the auctores can only witness the wonders and the marvels but not interpret them in any meaningful way. Any knowledge they gain through such sightings is therefore not appropriative or explanatory. Diversity complicates this further: “Royaumes,” “meruaylles,” “landes,” and “nature” are all “dyverse.” Any sense that the knowledge of the auctores could accumulate into some kind of universal truth is undercut by this multiplicity. Further, the reader is reminded that the marvels of God are as inexplicable to the human mind as is God Himself, and indeed the immediate purpose of the marvels is to demonstrate the vastness of God in contrast to the limitations of human understanding. Such a conception of space (multiple, diverse, vast) is in direct contrast with the spatial metaphors of stasis and containment that depict a limited human understanding (“constrayned of god”), which is emphasized yet further by the geographical (spatial) reality of medieval life in which most people could never hope to experience first-hand the wonders and marvels available to the traveler. In this way the auctores are differentiated from unlearned men not only by their diverse experiences of the world but also by the acknowledgment that the singularity and subjectivity of their experiences creates a state of unknowingness in the face of a wondrous world.

So, while in some situations wonder could be simply a response to the unknown, and therefore the first step to knowledge, here we find that wonder and learned knowledge accord with Bynum’s formulation that they are ontologically different. Wonder is a response to the wonders and marvels of God. These wonders are caused by God, whose motivations are beyond human understanding. Knowledge of God and His marvels is therefore beyond humankind. Simple human knowledge of the world, of the everyday, is not directly caused by God, and it is therefore possible to acquire this knowledge through learning. And yet, paradoxically, the more learned one becomes, the more aware one is of one’s limitations, of what one cannot know.

Where does this leave the reader approaching the text of Melusine? It would seem that the unlearned man, or the reader in this scenario, is to be led into the wonders of the text through the intrinsic prologue, to be led into the text to experience wonder. The intrinsic prologue sets up an epistemology of wonder, privileging wonder and the wondrous, setting them not only above the knowledge of man but also as ontologically different from that knowledge and therefore unavailable to man’s understanding. The text creates a sense that the reader is about to be exposed to wonder, and is being primed to make an appropriate response.

The singular habitus betrayed by the text is, therefore, a complicated interplay between a discourse of wonder on the one hand and taxonomies of system and order on the other. While at first glance these might suggest conflicting impulses, in the intrinsic prologue they are underpinned by the common notion of ontological difference. Indeed, the medieval habitus accommodated a number of currents and countercurrents (reconciling them as required through the second controlling principle of Scholasticism: concordantia). Alongside careful taxonomies of system and order was the notion that God was beyond any such humanly devised constraint. While this notion reached its logical conclusion in mysticism and the via negativa, it could also be understood as a question of language.

The fact is that the more we take flight upward, the more our words are confined to the ideas we are capable of forming; so that now as we plunge into that darkness which is beyond intellect, we shall find ourselves not simply running short of words but actually speechless and unknowing. (Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite) 23

The difficulty for the text as an artifact of discourse is how to express something which is outside that discourse. Any system of representation has these limitations. A well-known example of this is Derrida’s observation about the notion of infinity, in which “the positive plenitude of classical infinity is translated into language only by betraying itself in a negative word (in-finite).” 24 The infinite, characterized by transcendence, plenitude, beyond being, and ambiguity, 25 is necessarily relative to, even a derivative of, the finite. If infinity is used in an attempt to surpass totalizing thought, the concept itself draws one back to that which one is attempting to leave behind. 26 Levinas addresses this difficulty in Otherwise than Being:

The correlation of the saying and the said, that is, the subordination of the saying to the said, to the linguistic system and to ontology, is the price that manifestation demands. 27

Within the terms of Levinas’s schema, speaking of God is even more problematic:

God is not simply “the first other,” or “the other par excellence” or “the absolutely other,” but other than the other, otherwise other, other with an alterity prior to the alterity of the other. 28

The act of describing God comes perilously close to defining God, thus introducing closure to a concept which is supposed to be without limit. Despite their predilection for hierarchy, category, homology, totality, and closure, medieval thinkers did recognize the limitations of language and the logical conundrums it presented, even for God Himself.

For if God does not define Himself, or if He could not define Himself, who would deny that ignorance and impotence are admitted into His Nature…On the other hand, if He both understands and defines what He Himself is, this will show that He is not altogether infinite since only by the creature can He not be defined…but by Himself He is both defined and known as to what He is. (John Scotus Eriugena) 29

Medieval thinkers engaged in a range of linguistic gymnastics attempting to overcome these difficulties. Peter Abelard proposed that, when speaking about God, language undergoes a translatio: words do not bear their original meaning. He argued that logic and language operate within their own system. They are abstracted from real things and deficient in speaking of God. 30 Similarly, Gilbert of Poitiers argued that when speaking of God, language is usus loquendi: used as “a way of speaking.” Otherwise, strictly speaking, one can only say that “God is.” 31 Thierry of Chartres said that “all words used of God are spoken metaphorically, otherwise they are not appropriate to God.” 32
For many medieval thinkers God could not be described, except in terms of approximation or contradiction. How could He then be portrayed in a way that is homologous to man as suggested in the taxonomy of the intrinsic prologue? One possibility to consider is that in the hierarchy of being delineated there is not in fact predicated on ontological sameness but rather on ontological difference. In other words, it is a hierarchy of beings; above the line separating God and His marvels from both the learned and unlearned man is profound alterity. A helpfully concise definition of alterity can be drawn from the work of Levinas:
  • Alterity presents itself as exteriority; it manifests itself as separate from, and unforeseen by, the subject. It is what surprises, astonishes, fills the subject with wonder (or apprehension).

  • Alterity is a site of excess, that is to say, an unabsorbed, indigestible residue, a force which the subject realizes that it cannot assimilate. In other words, an independence, a resistance or “viscosity” to the subject’s aims and aspirations.

  • Alterity is on a line to infinity. It exceeds all borders, boundaries, and constraints the subject wishes to impose on it. It is beyond any limit, insofar as this is understood by the subject, even though it may exhibit its own.

  • Alterity is an activity, relative to which the subject remains passive. It initiates actions, brings about encounters, approaches the subject, makes demands, and relies upon the subject’s responses, his responsibility. 33

This delineation of alterity accords with the portrayal of God in the opening paragraph of Melusine. First, God and His creations, punishments and judgments are described in terms of “wonder” and the “marvelous.” 34 God’s marvels should be believed as God’s wonder manifesting itself on earth. As such, they are exterior to the subject. Second, God and His marvels cannot be defined in terms which can be known by the human subject: “he is not wyse that suche thinges supposeth to comprehende in his wit” (p. 2, ll. 23–24). They cannot be drawn in, consumed, and reorganized in reference to the self. They are excess. Third, God is defined in terms which transcend limit. His punishments, judgments, and marvels exist throughout the “vniuersal world” (p. 2, ll. 25–26): they can be anywhere. Further, as noted above, God and His marvels are described as spatially infinite: “soo as he is without ryuage and without bottom/soo are the thinges meruayllous & wounderfull in many dyuerse landes” (p. 3, ll. 18–20). Finally, God has spoken and created “the meruaylles that ben thrugh the vniuersal world” (pp. 25–26), whereas the unlearned man “ought nat therfore for to traueille…to knowe & to comprehende” (p. 2, ll. 29–31), but should think about only “how they may worthily & deuoutly prayse and glorify hym…without eny gaynseying” (p. 2, l. 33–p. 3, l. 3). The subject is passive in the face of God’s activity.

Keeping all these difficulties and possibilities of alterity in mind—Abelard’s translatio; Gilbert’s usus loquendi; Thierry’s metaphor; and Levinas’s exteriority, excess, infinity, and activity—it seems to me that the depiction of God in the intrinsic prologue is an attempt to position Him beyond man’s conceptions of time, space, and knowledge: as alterity, or radical otherness. God is not definable in terms of the self but rather is irreducible to the self, indeed precedes the self (“vnderstanding is constrayed of god,” p, 3, l. 18). If God and His marvels can only be defined in terms of difference, then the epistemology unfolding in the singular habitus of the text gives primacy to ontological difference over ontological sameness. The system of closed categories, hierarchically and harmoniously arranged, is not in fact homologous, as the collective habitus of manifestatio would lead us to expect. At its head is a category that is indescribable. Derrida says, “Perhaps Levinas calls us toward this unthinkable—impossible—unsayable beyond Being and the Logos (of tradition). But it must not be possible either to think or to say this call.” 35 Nevertheless, could not the description of God found in the intrinsic prologue of the text be a gesture in that direction?

The text of Melusine is clearly a romance, and no doubt the medieval reader would approach it expecting a romance with all its concomitant motifs of wonder and the marvelous. However, within this particular context, the singular habitus of the text is informed by the wider learned habitus of the medieval period with its strong current of Scholasticism. This singular habitus reconciles the discourses of romance and the marvelous with Scholastic tendencies through the invocation of a discourse of wonder, indeed through an epistemology of alterity that will set in train certain preferred readings of the text. My purpose in this chapter is to retrieve a pathway into the text as set out in the intrinsic prologue: a pathway that might not be evident at first glance to a modern reader but which a reader embedded within the medieval cultural habitus would recognize as the singular habitus of this particular text.

The Boar Hunt

To further demonstrate that the hierarchy of beings as described in the intrinsic prologue is predicated upon difference, I turn to the episode of the Boar Hunt in which wonder is given precedence over reason. Raimondin, the hero of our tale, is fostered as a youth to his uncle, Earl Emery, the Earl of Poitiers:

Thistory thanne telleth to vs that this Erle was moche worthy & valyaunt a knight/and that loued euer noblesse, And was the most wyse in the science of Astronomye that was in hys dayes, ne byfore syn that Aristotles regned…And knowe ye that he loued so moche his nevew Raymondin that he might no more. and so dide the child his vncle, and peyned hym moche to playse & to serue hym at gree, and to doo hym playsir in all maners. (p. 20, ll. 7–18)

One day the court goes hunting for a wild boar, which has been sighted in the nearby Forest of Coulombiers. They discover the boar at last, there is a frantic chase, and finally the boar turns to confront his hunters. It is such a large and fearsome creature that no one is willing to dismount to attack it:

Thenne camme the Erle that cryed with a highe voyce. sayeng. “shal this swyne abasshe us all.” And whan Raymondyn herde thus spek hys vncle, he was in hymself vergoynouse and shamed/and alighted from his courser and sette feet on grounde. (p. 21, ll. 20–25)

The earl attacks the boar, which then lunges at him, forcing him to his knees. It then runs off into the forest. Raimondin chases it, and everyone loses sight of them both:

Wherof the Erle, his vncle, was aferd/les that the bore shuld distroye hym. Wherfore the Erle waloped aftir hys nevew Raymondin and with a high voyce escryed hym. “Fayre nevew, leve this chasse, and cursed be he that anounced it to vs, For yf this swyne hurt you I shall neuer haue joye in my herte.” But Raymondyn, whiche was chaffed, doubted not of hys lyf, ne toke heede to none euyl Fortune that might befall to hym therof. (p. 22, ll. 3–11)

Thus Raimondin and his uncle are separated from the others. Night falls, and they stop to rest. The earl looks into the sky, reads the stars, and begins to lament and weep for the future he sees. Meanwhile, Raimondin has lit a fire. Upon hearing his uncle’s distress, Raimondin advises him that he is far too illustrious a personage “to enquyre of suche artes” (p. 23, ll. 31–32) as Astronomy, and in any case he should not fret about things he cannot change. The earl scoffs, and tells him what he sees:

And the auenture is suche/that yf at the same ooure a subget dide slee hys lord he shuld becomme the moost mighty and moost worshiped that euer camme out of hys lynage or kynrede, And of hym shuld procede and yssue so subtle a lynee/that of it shuld be mencioun and remembraunce made vnto thende of the world. (p. 24, ll. 16–22)

What the earl does not tell Raimondin is the reason why he weeps and why he “gyue[s] nomore force” to the chase (p. 23, ll. 25–26). Raimondin does not notice the omission, and proceeds to argue with his uncle about the possibility of such a sequence of events. He protests that it is “ayenst al right and reason” to profit from mortal treason. The earl urges Raimondin to believe it nevertheless, and the argument continues until they hear a disturbance in the wood.
Each tries to protect the other from the charging boar. The earl, “that knew & wyst moche of the chasse” (p. 25, ll. 22–23) brings the boar down, but in the process falls to his knees. Raimondin rushes in to finish off the beast, but when in his youthful zeal he flings his sword at the boar’s tough hide, the sword snaps in two and the point flies off into the darkness. Undeterred, he finally kills the boar with his spear. When he turns to find the earl he is overwhelmed with distress to discover that the broken point of his sword has mortally wounded his beloved uncle. He cannot believe that happiness or prosperity lie before him, only grief, dishonor, exile, and penance:

And thanne Raymondyn camme to hys lord / and sore wepyng, kyssed hym with so heuy & wooful herte / that thenne he had nat mow say one only word for all the gold in the world /. And soone aftir that he had kyssed hym, he layed his foot on the sterop and lepe vpon his hors / and departed, holding his way thrugh the myddel of the Forest, moche dyscomforted, & rode apas vnknowing the way, ne whether he went / but only by hap & att auenture, And made suche a sorowe that there nys no personne in the world that coude thinke ne sey the part of hys dolour /. (p. 27, ll. 1–11)

By this time the reader knows that the earl has spoken the truth, and the only question remaining is how the history comes to pass.

This episode presents a prima facie case for the elevation of wonder over reason in our developing epistemology. God does not answer to reason, reason does not make the leap from the human realm to the divine, and God as the other is inexplicable. A closer analysis is required, however, as the subtle intricacies of the interrelationships between reason, seeing, and knowing have implications throughout the text of Melusine, particularly in relation to the construction of possible positions for an epistemological subject.

The earl and Raimondin have two different ways of knowing. The earl’s knowledge is based upon what he sees in the stars, on heavenly things, while Raimondin’s is based upon his own definition of human reason. Raimondin has knowledge of human things—of social propriety, chivalry, and honor. He loves his uncle and “peyned hym moche to playse & to serue hym at gree, and to doo hym playsir in all maners” (p. 20, ll. 16–18), and when they go on the hunt Raimondin “rode euer byside” the earl (p. 21, ll. 5–6). All is right and proper. Moreover, he understands the pursuit of honor through displays of valor and hardiness. Indeed, he is the first to be inspired to exertion by his uncle’s words, and his behavior is described in positive terms: “courageously,” “hardy,” and “valyaunt” (p. 21, ll. 26–30). He is, however, reckless in this pursuit. He will not desist from the chase when his uncle advises it (p. 21, ll. 4–12), even though his uncle is his lord, and also “knew & wyst moche of the chasse” (p. 25, ll. 22–23). Raimondin follows the boar fearlessly, but it is the fearlessness of apparently immortal youth. He never thinks of being killed: he “doubted not of hys lyf” (p. 22, l. 9). When Raimondin and the earl meet the boar, in his overblown confidence Raimondin urges the earl to hide in a tree “and lette me dele with hym” (p. 25, l. 5), but the earl, who understands the full extent of the danger, refuses and remains with Raimondin.

Being somewhat naive and idealistic, Raimondin cannot imagine that things are not always as they should be. When things turn out as they should not—when he accidentally kills his uncle and lord—he is thrown into not only overwhelming grief but also fear and confusion. For the first time he seems fully cognizant of the danger he is in, and ironically it is not from wild animals or enemies but from his own fellows. The laws of chivalry, which he believed would protect him, are now against him, but he still does not lose hold of his belief that things will be as they should be and that he should now be punished: “For in certayn all they that shall here spek of this grett mysdede shal juge me/& with good right, to dey of a shamfull deth” (p. 26, ll. 15–17).

The earl’s prophecy offers no comfort to Raimondin. Indeed, he dismisses privileged knowledge. He ridicules astronomy, and by implication other privileged knowledges, as superstition (“my lord, for godis loue lette that thing be. For it apparteyneth not to so highte a prince as ye be, For to putte of sette hys herte therto/ne for to enquyre of suche artes, ne of suche thynges,” p. 23, ll. 29–32), even though it has already been positioned in the text as a gift from God, and therefore a heavenly thing (“and that I knowe by the high science of astronomye / of the whiche by thy grace þou hast lente to me oon braunche of knowlege whereof I oughte to preyse / to thanke and to regracy the hertily in thy highe mageste, wher to none may be compared,” p. 23, ll. 3–8). While the death of his beloved uncle is perhaps precipitated by Raimondin’s youthful recklessness, in his distress he believes that his is the worst crime ever committed: “For a more false ne more euyl treson dide neuer no synner” (p. 26, ll. 17–18). It is the worst thing he has experienced in his short life, and this defines the limit of his knowledge and understanding.

Earl Emery, on the other hand, is both a ruler and a learned man. 36 He is described as one of the most respected men of his time.

Thistory thanne telleth to vs that this Erle was moche worthy & valyaunt a knight / and that loued euer noblesse, And was the most wyse in the science of Astronomye that was in hys dayes, ne byfore syn that Aristotles regned. That tyme that the Erle Emery regned / thistory sheweth to vs that [he] coude many a science, & specially he was parfytte in the science of Astromy, as I haue said tofore. (p. 20, ll. 7–14) 37

Chivalry, noblesse, wisdom, and authority come together in the earl. And yet, despite these chivalrous and noble qualities, the earl’s reign is not aligned with that of a great king or noble lord but with that of Aristotle, the ultimate pre-Christian auctor. The earl’s reign therefore refers to his pre-eminent position as a learned man.
Aristotle, reason, seeing, and knowing have already been linked together in the intrinsic prologue:

The creature of god that is raisonable, oughte moche besily to vnderstande aftir the sayeng of Aristote, that the þynges which he hath made & creatid here bynethe, by the presence þat they haue in themself, certyfyen to be suche as they are / As saynct paule seyth in thepistle that he made to the Rommains / sayeng in this manere / that the thinges that he hath doon, shalbe knowen & seen by the Creatures of the world. (p. 3, ll. 4–12) 38

Aristotle is invoked to authorize the definition of the reasonable creature as he who accepts visible things as evidence of themselves. Presence can be determined without understanding, without “presumyng to knowe & to comprehende” (p. 2, ll. 30–31). Presence certifies things “to be such as they are”; all that can be determined is that they exist in the here and now. Moreover, if seeing and knowing are synonymous, then human knowledge is limited to the superficiality of surface. Indeed, to determine presence only the surface need be identified. Surface implies some kind of interiority, but if presence is evidence enough, then the interiority need not be penetrated, explored, consumed, reconstituted; it need not be completely knowable or known. The text presents reason as the acknowledgment of this limitation rather than a mechanism to override it. Reason is thus a necessary condition of knowledge, a prerequisite for it, but seeing is the vehicle through which this limited, human knowledge is gained.
Seeing is knowing, and as there are different kinds of beings, there are different kinds of seeing and different kinds of knowing. As outlined above, auctores are differentiated from the unlearned man by special knowledge. According to Boethius this means that they see differently:

For there are certain definite stages and dimensions of advancement through which it is possible to rise and progress until the eye of the mind (that eye which, as Plato says, is far worthier of existence and preservation than all our organs of sensory perception, since only by its light may truth be sought or perceived)—until, I say, this eye, which has been submerged and blinded by our bodily senses, may be illumined once again by these disciplines. 39

The disciplines to which Boethius refers in the above passage are the four disciplines of the quadrivium: geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, and music. These disciplines are based on the demonstrative method. 40 The demonstrative method is described in the Posterior Analytics of Aristotle as a method based upon “premises which must be true, primary, immediate and better known than, and prior to, the conclusion, which is further related to them as effect to cause.” 41 The premises for all mathematical works, that is, for the quadrivium, are found in Euclid’s Elements, 42 which itself is based upon axioms. Propositions within this system are proven through experimentation and observation, and once propositions based upon the authoritative premises of one auctor are proven through experimentation by another auctor, repeat performances are considered redundant. 43 The disciplines of the trivium—rhetoric, grammar, and logic—are based on the rational method which uses plausible arguments rather than provable propositions. The rational method is not axiomatic, but rather based upon “opinion.” William of Conches describes the demonstrative and rational methods, respectively, as discussing that which “is necessary, although not plausible,” and that which “is plausible although it is not necessary.” 44 Therefore, the demonstrative method requires highly developed skills of observation operating within the context of a specific and learned body of knowledge. The combination of this knowledge and these skills elevates the visual perception of the observer beyond the eye of the senses.
Knowledge of Christianity brings a further dimension to the construction of privileged knowledge. The premises required by the demonstrative method are like articles of faith. They are not able to be proven and through this very quality they are evidence of God:

There are four kinds of rationes which lead man to the recognition of his creator—i.e. the proofs of arithmetic and music, geometry and astronomy. (Thierry of Chartres) 45

Seeing with the eye of the mind is therefore a synthesis of the privileged knowledge of the quadrivium with the specialized skill of observation. These two things are cross-dependent in that the quadrivium “illuminates” the skill of observation, and yet the quadrivium requires observation in its methodology, that is, the demonstrative method. Indeed, the two become inseparable: knowledge, instead of being the object, becomes part of the process, and it is in the process where the distinction lies. Seeing with the eye of the mind becomes an engagement with the workings of the universe and the relative insignificance of the subject within it. Seeing with the eye of the senses is tainted with bodily desire. It is an engagement with the self, and the danger is that without an external reference the significance of the subject is disproportionately inflated.

The epistemology outlined in the first chapter of Melusine reflects the mechanisms of the demonstrative method: it invokes Aristotle, it presents reason as a prerequisite for knowledge but seeing as the mechanism through which to achieve it; indeed, seeing is knowing, and there is always the inexplicable which should be accepted such as it is (observed). In the episode of Raimondin and the earl the conflict between them arises because they see differently.

The earl is learned in “many a science,” but he is “most wyse” in astronomy. Choosing this discipline from the four of the quadrivium is strategic in the explication of the epistemology of the text. Unlike mathematics or geometry, astronomy deals with objects and distances beyond measure. While the movements of the planets might be described in musical terms, everything is unreachable, conjectural, and theorizable, but ultimately inexplicable. In Christian terms the mystery of the universe is such an enormity that it is evidence of the infinite wonder of God. Alan of Lille characterizes the study of astronomy as “bear[ing] witness to divine love at work in the heavens:” 46

by what reason the stars move, by what law a planet

goes on a forward course, by what law it flees,

retrograde, or lingers at a station of its journey,

by what reason the Signs move on their oblique path. (Alan of Lille) 47

The astronomy of the earl is clearly positioned as Christian. It is a gift from God—“by thy grace þou hast lente [it] to me”—and is presented in the text as revealing some kind of truth. It is not the corpus astronomicum 48 of the academy at that time but a Christian astrology which overdetermines the predictive qualities of astronomy by investing the stars with signs of divine predetermination. 49 Such an astronomy is well within the poetic conventions operating in the genre of chivalric romance. Chrétien, for example, acknowledges the special place of astronomy as the most wondrous of the quadrivium. He describes the coronation robe of Erec in the final scene of Erec and Enide:
  • Quatre fees l’avoient fet

  • Par grant san et par grant mestrie.

  • L’une i portrest geometrie,…

  • Et la seconde mist sa painne

  • An arimetique portreire,…

  • La tierce oevre fu de musique,…

  • La quarte qui aprés ovra,

  • A mout buene oevre recovra;

  • Car la mellor des arz i mist.

  • D’astronomie s’antremist

  • Cele, qui fet tante mervoille,

  • Qui as estoiles se consoille,

  • Et a la lune et au soloil;

  • An autre leu ne prant consoil

  • De rien, qui a feire li soit.

  • Cil la consoillent bien a droit

  • De quanquë ele les requiert,

  • Et quanque fu et quanquë iert,

  • Li font certainnement savoir

  • Sanz mantir et sanz decevoir. 50

[Four fairies had made it with great artistry and craft. One of them represented there Geometry…The second devoted herself to portraying Arithmetic…The third portrayal was of Music…The fourth, who next showed her handiwork, applied herself to an excellent design, for she represented the best of the arts. Her subject was Astronomy, who accomplishes so many marvels, consulting with the stars, moon and sun. Nowhere else does she get her inspiration for anything she has to do, and from them gains good, sound advice. All the information she seeks from them about whatever was or will be they reliably provide for her without lying or deceit.] 51

The robe, embroidered by fairies, displays the signs and symbols of the quadrivium. Each fairy except that of Music takes the capacity of her art to its ultimate logical conclusion. Geometry measures the “depth and height, length and breadth” of the sky, the earth, and the sea and “so measures the whole world.” Arithmetic counts “time’s days and hours, each single drop of the sea,…every grain of sand…all the stars in order” and the leaves in the woods. Astronomy is kept until last. The fourth fairy applies herself to “an excellent design”: she applies herself to a task, a process, and yet whether that process is embroidery or astronomy, or both, is somewhat ambiguous. It is clear, however, that astronomy is the “best of the arts.” It “accomplishes so many marvels,” and it offers “inspiration” and “good, sound advice,” all “without lying or deceit.” While fairies are clearly outside the orthodoxy of the church, in this passage the fairies act as demonstrators of the wonders of God. They appear like marginalia, or like cherubs with trumpets blowing winds from the four corners of the mappae mundi. They are poetic figures which mobilize unexplainable wonders rather than literal representations of creatures supposed to exist.

When the earl engages his special knowledge of astronomy to read the stars, he does not see with the eye of the senses, which by definition is tainted by subjective bodily desires. In accordance with the words of David, which open the intrinsic prologue, the earl sees without trying to explain or understand, without trying to rationalize. He sees without consumption and reconstruction. It is like a touching of surfaces without penetration or containment on either side. Unlike Raimondin he cannot deny or reinvent what he sees in the event that it does not suit him. Nevertheless, despite all this apparent disembodiment, what the earl sees is all too personal. He sees what he wishes not to see and is distressed by it. The earl has no control over the process. It is simply what happens and he must accept what he sees just as every other “raisonable” man should. He must accept the observations of his mind’s eye in the same way as other men must accept the observations of their bodily eyes—observations should be accepted “such as they are.” Privileged knowledge, like that of astronomy, is merely the tool to achieve a higher wisdom.

Raimondin, on the other hand, cannot see as his uncle does. He discounts his uncle’s superior knowledge and skill on the basis that it is “ayenst al right and reason.” Herein lies his error. Raimondin does not understand that the earl sees with the eye of the mind, and he does not have enough self-knowledge to realize that with no special knowledge to “illuminate” his gaze—neither of the quadrivium nor of worldly experience—he sees only with the eye of the senses. External information such as the earl’s prophecy must be massaged to fit his youthful and idealistic understanding of the world:

Thanne ansuerde Raymondyn that neuer he shuld mowe byleue that it were trouth / and that it were ayenst al right and reason / that a man shuld haue wele for to doo euyl, and for to doo suche a mortal treson. “Now byleue thou it surely,” said the Erle to Raymondin, “For it is as I tell to the.” “By my feith,” said Raymondin / “yet shall I nat byleue it.” (p. 24, ll. 23–30)

While Raimondin’s doublet of “right and reason” echo Aristotle’s “right reason,” and thereby makes the Aristotlean connection of morality and rationality, he mistakenly connects them with truth (“that neuer he shuld mowe byleue that it were trouth”) Truth, however, is located elsewhere. Aristotle locates truth in the metaphysical; Christian medieval thinkers locate it in the realm of the divine where reason does not hold sway. To paraphrase John of Salisbury and Peter of Poitiers, scientia (knowledge) is dependent upon reason and applied to human things, whereas sapientia (wisdom) is dependent upon the love of truth and applied to divine things. 52 Raimondin’s call to right and reason brings into sharp relief the limitations of his partial knowledge.

The human realm contains Raimondin, and he operates exclusively within it. The earl, however, reaches for the heavens and divine things. God and divine things are inexplicable. Those who think they know are trapped in their own realm. Like Raimondin they misapply the little knowledge they have because they do not recognize the limitations of their knowledge or of themselves. Those who know they do not know have achieved wisdom. Indeed, the only thing one can ever hope to know is the self. Everything else is other. When self-knowledge is coupled with privileged knowledge, for example of the quadrivium, the subject can see differently. And yet, their self-knowledge never allows them to lose touch with their own insignificance and incapacity. Their position as privileged knower is another wonder of God.

The episode of the Boar Hunt elucidates that the categories described in the burgeoning epistemology of the text are predicated on difference. Indeed, the categorical difference between the human and divine realms is such that it can only be described in terms of wonder and the marvelous, of that which can only be accepted, not understood. Given the limitations of language, it would seem that these descriptions are an attempt to indicate that which is beyond description. In the hierarchy of beings introduced in the intrinsic prologue, knowledge itself is problematized. As one advances in knowledge and gains access to privileged knowledge, one learns to accept the position of unknowing. It is wisdom to forgo the expectation of knowing.

These ruminations can be distilled into one main point: the hierarchy of beings, as constructed in the opening paragraphs of the text, is based upon a manifestatio of difference. This epistemology, this framework of clarification, urges the reader to push aside the expectations and assumptions of our accumulated knowledge. Whatever that knowledge may be, it is no longer applicable because what we are to read is a tale that was written in the stars, and even the most knowledgeable man since Aristotle could not explain it.

An Epistemology of Wonder

In these various ways the opening sections of the text of Melusine betray a singular habitus that is based upon an epistemology of wonder. The intrinsic prologue introduces a hierarchy of beings that is subtended by system and order while at the same time predicated upon ontological difference. Ways of knowing are carefully teased out from knowledge itself, which is problematized as individual and perspectival. The episode of the Boar Hunt reinforces the limitations of man’s reach in both conception and understanding. Wisdom, however, can be found in the release from knowledge, leaving only wonder as man’s experience of radical alterity. Wonder is, therefore, a key element in this singular habitus—not only the wonder of an inexplicable God but also the wonder of wondrous beings that evidence His wonder on earth.

The implications of this elevation of wonder above the otherworldly line go yet further. It is not simply another celebration of God, nor is it simply a rhetorical move to strip the reader, as “unknowing man,” of all knowledge in order to manufacture a wonder response. Bynum offers a further suggestion, proposing that the “wonder-reaction” was a “significance-reaction” (71). She argues that the wondrous and inexplicable were never “simply” wondrous and inexplicable. Rather, the wonder response itself indicated another layer of meaning: the wondrous “pointed” to a layer of wondrous meaning beyond, indicating a portent or message that was wondrous. In other words, the purpose of this epistemology of wonder is not simply to suspend disbelief; rather, it is to present the possibility of considering the wonders presented in the text as having another layer of meaning, as pointing to something more significant. The intrinsic prologue therefore seems to be setting up the reader to ponder alternative meanings and to be open to different possibilities.

The most significant wonder of the text is, of course, Melusine herself. And the significance of locating her—the eponymous heroine, the main protagonist—above the otherworldly line, is that it destabilizes medieval gender hierarchies before the main narrative even begins. The intrinsic prologue, that leads the reader into the text, opens up a whole range of challenges to medieval conceptions of women as those who must be knowable and known, who must be contained and controlled—and even as those who are lower in the hierarchy of being than men.

Woman as “other” to man was a mode of thinking that resonated strongly in the medieval imagination. This was not the other of ontological difference discussed above in relation to God; rather, it was the other as ontologically negative. Women as inferior to men was a social reality inscribed in authoritative medieval discourses, particularly of medicine and religion, and even enshrined in the law. 53 Medieval gender hierarchies aligned women with the negative side of binary oppositions; in other words, the feminine was aligned with the negative side of positive masculine characteristics. Corinne Saunders has noted that the two biblical creation stories work in tandem to make women the “inverse” of man. 54 In the first creation story God creates both male and female on the sixth day, before the Fall (Genesis 1:27), thereby positioning gendered biological difference as “original” and “absolute.” 55 In the second creation story Adam is created by God’s hand alone whereas Eve is formed from Adam’s rib (Genesis 2:21–23). The second story thereby arranges the “absolute” biological difference of Adam and Eve in a gendered hierarchy. Moreover, this configuration of God—Adam—Eve means that “woman,” as a concept or idea, is formed from the body of “man.” Even as an idea she is aligned with the body, with materiality, with human matter. Her child-bearing role legitimates this connection. Man, on the other hand, is formed by God, giving him a superior spiritual connection and less grounding in the materiality of the body. Man is therefore associated with the spiritual and the rational. At the same time, man’s proximity to God in the generative process makes him biologically superior to woman and legitimates her physical subjection to him. 56 In these ways not only is man superior to woman in an apparently linear hierarchy, but also woman is the inverse of man, manifesting a lack of his preferred characteristics (she lacks rationality, spirituality, and the mind; she has materiality and bodiliness); she also lacks his close connection to God.

These themes of women’s lack were further articulated by authoritative discourses of natural philosophy, particularly those of Aristotle, which the text of Melusine itself invokes. Aristotle’s form/matter dichotomy, representing the male/female roles in reproduction, was widely known and influential. 57 Within this model, the primary function of the female is procreation; indeed, this was believed to be the primary function of sexual difference, locating women firmly in the material realm. The male contribution to procreation, “form,” is necessarily of a higher order than the contribution of the female, unformed “matter.” Matter without form—without order—is disorder. Matter as female required external restraint; hence, the male form. Both are recognized as essential to reproduction, although the female is “an infertile male” and lacks “the principle of Soul.” 58 Inadequate “setting” of matter leads to disorder, to imperfections of reproduction, and even monstrosity. A girl child represented a failure of matter to adequately “congeal.” 59 Girl children were imperfections on the path to monstrosity. Such failures did not reflect a flaw or weakness in form, rather they indicated a resistance of matter to submit to form, or an insufficiency or flaw in the matter itself. 60 Aristotle’s form/matter dichotomy was therefore an instantiation of a hierarchy of power in gender relations. Moreover, it set in train a whole range of binarisms that further justified the power relationship predicated upon the gendering of order/disorder: reason/absence of reason (emotion), mind/absence of mind (body), sexual restraint/absence of sexual restraint (lust), and so on. The idealized feminine was not only a construct to legitimate these power structures; it did double service in reflecting back enhanced masculine qualities onto the idealized male, for example, her weakness contrasted flatteringly with his strength, her passivity with his activity, and her silence with his voice.

My point here is not to dwell on misogynist narratives but rather to show that in these discourses there was a tendency to define women by their “deprivation” of masculine qualities, rather than in their difference from them or even as having qualities of their own. 61 As Joan Cadden has observed, “the concepts of women as opposites or objects…were, in fact, commonplace elements of the scientific and cultural environment. So too were women’s passivity, imperfection, and insatiability.” 62 A striking example of women as “opposites” of ideal masculinity, rather than existing as beings in themselves, can be found in a series of Florentine legal cases of sodomy from the late fifteenth century. In at least half of these cases Michael Rocke finds that feminizing language and the abstract notion of “woman” seems to be on everyone’s lips. 63 One might wonder why the notion of “woman” played so significant a role in a court full of men, making determinations about sex between men. What had women to do with the court process or the acts being tried? Flesh-and-blood women had nothing to do with the scenario at all, but the concept of “woman” was aligned with a particular sexual role. The worst thing about sodomy, it would seem, was the breach of gender roles; men who took the “passive” role in sex were “deviant” and “abominable” in their “sin against nature;” such a man “makes himself a woman.” 64 It would seem that, in this case, the concept of “woman” was defined as a certain lack of appropriate masculine attributes and behaviors, without the need for any reference to flesh-and-blood women at all. As Cadden notes, “‘woman’ is in some sense the opposite or privative form of ‘man.’” 65

Even if this notion of “woman” as the absence or lack of masculine attributes is purely an abstraction, flesh-and-blood women become tainted; in this case they become the feminine “other” associated with a negative ontology. In the hierarchy of beings delineated in the intrinsic prologue of Melusine, such a figure of “woman” (whether rhetorical or flesh-and-blood) would properly sit below the unknowing man, divided by an additional line of division between the self as the masculine subject and the feminine substrata that supports him through her own negation.

Medieval romance, particularly Middle English romance, negotiates with this tradition of idealized femininity, and the tale of Melusine presents a striking example. 66 As a feminine figure, Melusine is carefully crafted as “other.” While in terms of social decorum Melusine presents as idealized femininity, her alterity goes far beyond any reference to Raimondin or his masculinity. Born of a fairy mother, she is half fairy and half human. Her “otherness” is always present in her cyclical bodily hybridity; interestingly, however, this physical mark of alterity is imposed by her mother who, despite a full fairy nature, bears no such mark herself. In other words, the bodily marker of hybridity is not naturally occurring, even for a fairy. It is instead a consequence of Melusine’s earlier transgressive behavior that displeased her mother. Melusine, as a “bad daughter,” is therefore, evidently, subject to her mother’s discipline, rather than that of any masculine figure. Even upon her marriage, it is Melusine who sets the rules of engagement, based upon her mother’s law. When these rules are finally broken, it is revealed that Melusine cannot escape Pressine’s law, because it is God’s will manifest. Further, Melusine’s numerous claims throughout the text that she is “close to God” reinforce her direct connection with God, bypassing any masculine mediation through church, father, or husband. Melusine is, therefore, a different kind of “other.” She is not defined negatively against the masculine, nor is she subject to his discipline or an agent of his will. Rather, she is ontologically different, a point foregrounded by her location above the line in the taxonomy of the intrinsic prologue. Moreover, identifying Melusine as one of God’s marvels imbues her placement above the line with divine intention.

The epistemology of wonder goes further than foregrounding the ontological difference of fairy creatures in romance. In the text of Melusine wonder is imbricated with the feminine. The epistemological process outlined early in the text offers the reader an alternative approach to the process of “othering” that necessarily implicates the othering of the feminine. The text, therefore, puts into play an alternative perspective on feminine ontology, and thereby creates a productive tension between the stereotypical feminine space of ontological negation and the possibility of ontological difference. Ontological difference, in this view, can therefore operate as nothing less than, indeed nothing more than, a marker of sexual difference. The following chapters will engage directly with these tensions, drawing out narrative threads that impact significantly on the potential for feminine agency and subjecthood. The next chapter considers the implications of this alternative perspective, focusing on a core element of romance narratives: the love relation.


  1. 1.

    For a general discussion of the development of the prologue as a form through the medieval period see Alastair Minnis, Medieval Theory of Authorship: Scholastic Literary Attitudes in the Later Middle Ages (London: Scholar Press, 1984), and Tony Davenport, Medieval Narrative: An Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

  2. 2.

    While the distinction between extrinsic and intrinsic prologues is largely medieval, it is based upon Cicero’s Topica. Minnis, Medieval Theory of Authorship, p. 30.

  3. 3.

    The Riverside Chaucer (3rd ed.), ed. F. N. Robinson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).

  4. 4.

    Precisely what constitutes “auctoritee” is never fully clarified.

  5. 5.

    Minnis, Medieval Theory of Authorship, p. 30.

  6. 6.

    Erwin Panofsky, Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism (New York: World Publishing Co., 1957).

  7. 7.

    For example, Erik Inglis argues that it is based on twentieth-century spatial metaphors producing anachronistic analogies. “Gothic Architecture and a Scholastic: Jean de Jandun’s ‘Tractatus de laudibus Parisius,’” Gesta 42 (2003), pp. 63–85.

  8. 8.

    Commonly the search was for “the path that leads from the cell of the Scholastic philosophers to the mason’s yard” (Heinrich Wolfflin, cited by Paul Binski, “Working by Words Alone: The Architect, Scholasticism and Rhetoric in Thirteenth-century France,” in Rhetoric Beyond Words: Delight and Persuasion in the Arts of the Middle Ages, ed. Mary Carruthers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), p. 20). Here Binski argues for such a direct link, focusing on the development of concordantia between Scholasticism and the architect.

  9. 9.

    Jesse Gellrich, in The Idea of the Book in the Middle Ages: Language Theory, Mythology and Fiction (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985), identifies the manifestatio of Scholasticism as the high point in a long historical trajectory of the semiology (and sacrality) of space. See also Pierre Bourdieu, “Postface to Erwin Panofsky, Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism” and Bruce Holsinger, “Indigeneity: Panofsky, Bourdieu, and the Archaeology of the Habitus,” in The Premodern Condition: Medievalism and the Making of Theory, ed. Bruce Holsinger (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).

  10. 10.

    10.Bourdieu “Postface,” p. 240.

  11. 11.

    Bourdieu “Postface,” pp. 222–223.

  12. 12.

    Roland Barthes, Mythologies, trans. Annette Lavers (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1972), p. 88.

  13. 13.

    Sara Sturm-Maddox notes the reference to Psalms 35 and 91 in “Crossed Destinies: Narrative Programs in the Roman de Mélusine,” in Melusine of Lusignan: Founding Fiction in Late Medieval France, eds. Donald Maddox and Sara Sturm-Maddox, p. 29 (see Introd., n. 7). She also makes the point that David is referring only to the human order, not that of a fairy marvelous; that “this recourse to Scripture is subtly bent to the purposes of Jean’s own project” (p. 13).

  14. 14.

    References are to the paragraphs in Donald.

  15. 15.

    I have kept the term “man” in this taxonomy because my argument locates the feminine in this tale elsewhere.

  16. 16.

    Time is introduced in the extrinsic prologue and repeatedly appears in the intrinsic prologue where the word “history” is mentioned seven times in one and a half pages in Donald’s edition: “Thystorye saith” (recounteth, certyffyeth, telleth), “In this part recounteth thystory,” “Now saith thystorye,” Page 1, ll. 11, 14, 18, 25, page 2, ll. 1, 2, 10. Indeed the whole raison d’être of the text is as a history, to give the legitimacy of historical precedence to the passing of the lordship of Lusignan to Jean Duc of Berry, the patron of the original French version.

  17. 17.

    As cited in Minnis, Medieval Theory of Authorship, p. 12.

  18. 18.

    This arrangement echoes another learned medieval habitus, John Scotus Eriugena’s division of nature into four “species”: not created and creating, created and creating, created and not creating, not created and not creating. Periphyseon, bk I, in Basic Issues in Medieval Philosophy, eds. Richard N. Bosley and Martin Tweedale (Peterborough, Ontario, Canada: Broadview Press, 1997), p. 602.

  19. 19.

    Corinne Saunders, Magic and the Supernatural in Medieval English Romance (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2010), pp. 179–180. Also see Michelle Sweeney, Magic in Medieval Romance from Chrétien de Troyes to Geoffrey Chaucer (Dublin: Four Courts, 2000).

  20. 20.

    Arthur O. Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1936), particularly Lectures 2 and 3, pp. 24–98. See also Edward P. Mahoney, “Lovejoy and the Hierarchy of Being,” Journal of the History of Ideas 48 (1987), pp. 211–240; Joseph G. Defilippo “Aristotle’s Identification of the Prime Mover as God,” The Classical Quarterly, New Series 44 (1994), pp. 393–409; John Marenbon and D.E. Luscombe, “Two Medieval Ideas: Eternity and Hierarchy,” in The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Philosophy, ed. A. S. McGrade (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), pp. 51–72.

  21. 21.

    Caroline Walker Bynum, Metamorphosis and Identity (New York: Zone Books, 2001), particularly Chapter 1: “Wonder,” pp. 37–76.

  22. 22.

    Bynum, “Metamorphosis and Identity,” p. 54.

  23. 23.

    Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, “The Mystical Theology,” in Basic Issues in Medieval Philosophy, eds. Bosley and Tweedale, p. 600.

  24. 24.

    Jacques Derrida, “Violence and Metaphysics: An Essay on the Thought of Emmanuel Levinas,” in Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), p. 114.

  25. 25.

    For a discussion of the complexity of the notion of infinity see Robert Bernasconi, “The Silent Anarchic World of the Evil Genius,” in The Collegium Phaenomenologicum, eds. J. Sallis, G. Moneta and J. Taminiaux (Dordrecht, Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1988), pp. 257–272.

  26. 26.

    See Derrida, “Violence and Metaphysics,” pp. 126–128.

  27. 27.

    Emmanuel Levinas, Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Dordrecht, Boston, London: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1991), p. 6. Originally published as Autrement qu’être ou au-delà de l’essence (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1974).

  28. 28.

    Emmanuel Levinas, De Dieu qui vient à l’idée (Paris: Vrin, 1982), pp. 113–115, as cited by John Llewelyn, “Am I Obsessed by Bobby? (Humanism of the Other Animal),” in Re-Reading Levinas, eds. Robert Bernasconi and Simon Critchley (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991), p. 239.

  29. 29.

    John Scotus Eriugena, “Periphyseon, bk III,” in Basic Issues in Medieval Philosophy, eds. Bosley and Tweedale, p. 619.

  30. 30.

    David Luscombe, Medieval Thought (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), p. 51, and D.E. Luscombe, “Peter Abelard,” in A History of Twelfth-Century Western Philosophy, ed. Peter Dronke (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), pp. 293 ff.

  31. 31.

    John Marenbon, “Gilbert of Poitiers,” in Twelfth-Century Western Philosophy, ed. Dronke, p. 337.

  32. 32.

    Abbreviatio Monacensis Contra Eutychen, III 49f, ed. N. Häring (1971), p 463, as cited in Peter Dronke, “Thierry of Chartres,” in Twelfth-Century Western Philosophy, ed. Dronke, pp. 358–385, on p. 365.

  33. 33.

    Elizabeth Grosz, “The ‘People of the Book’: Representation and Alterity in Emmanuel Levinas,” Art & Text 26 (1987), p. 34.

  34. 34.

    In the first two paragraphs of the text—“meruaylles” (p. 2, l. 25; p. 3, l. 28), “meruaylled” (p. 2, l. 32), “meruaylling” (p. 2, l. 33), “dyuerse meruaylles” (p. 3, ll. 16–17), “meruayllous & wounderfull” (p. 3, l. 20)—all in relation to the judgments, punishments, or pleasures of God.

  35. 35.

    Derrida, as cited by Robert Bernasconi, “The Trace of Levinas in Derrida,” in Derrida and Differance, eds. David Wood and Robert Bernasconi (Coventry: Parousia Press, 1985), p. 22.

  36. 36.

    Sturm-Maddox notes that the earl is “an exemplary reader of God’s wonders,” but her argument takes another direction. “Crossed Destinies,” p. 16.

  37. 37.
    In Jean d’Arras’ French version of 1393, Emery has access to more privileged knowledge. He is the grandfather of St. Guillaume, and has knowledge of rhetoric, music, physics, geometry, philosophy, and theology (p. 16). In Coudrette’s French version of the early fifteenth century (ll. 145–166) and the later Middle English Partenay (circa. 1500), the introduction to the earl is more detailed and more extensive than in Melusine:
    • Hit is so in trouth in time auncion,

    • After the time that Octauian was,

    • In peyters a erle had of grete renoun,

    • Off whom gret talkyng men held hie and bas;

    • louid of all, cherished in eche place,

    • Called Amerys; wel cowde aftronemie,

    • And A man ful ripe in other clerigie

    • Off the right Canoun and Ciuile also;

    • Wel nye al by hert thes science coude he,

    • Als wordly witte I-now had ther-to;

    • yut hys dedes neuerthelesse to se,

    • Neuer better astronomian might be,

    • Founde was neuer man being christian;

    • He cowde moche more than any other man,

    • But only he which sterres gan to name,

    • Then all other, with ther names all.

    • A gret man this was And of noble fame,

    • And wel at ease of goodes mondaill;

    • Disport of houndes loued moche with-all,

    • Full ofte chaced he hertes, bores grete;

    • Thys erle of peyters huge nobles gan gete. (Partenay, p. 8, ll. 1–21)

  38. 38.

    D’Arras’ version reads somewhat differently: “La creature de Dieu raisonnable doit entendre, selon que dit Aristote, que des choses invisibles, selon la distinction des choses qu’il a faictes ça jus, et que par leur presence de leur estre et nature le certifie, si comme saint Pol le dit en l’epistre aux Rommains, que les choses qu’il a faictes seront veues et sceues par la creature du monde,” Jean d’Arras, p. 2.

  39. 39.

    De institutione arithmetica, ed. Gottfried Friedlein (Leipzig, 1867), pp. 9–10, as cited in Winthrop Wetherbee, “Philosophy, Cosmology and the Twelfth-Century Renaissance,” in Twelfth-Century Western Philosophy, ed. Dronke, p. 30.

  40. 40.

    See Charles Burnett, “Scientific Speculations,” in Twelfth-Century Western Philosophy, ed. Dronke, p. 155.

  41. 41.

    Posterior Analytics 12, 71B20-21, trans. G.R.G. Mure in The Works of Aristotle, vol. 1, ed. W.D. Ross (Oxford, 1928) cited by Burnett, “Scientific Speculations,” p. 155. John of Salisbury (d. 1180) is the first European scholar to show first-hand knowledge of this work in his Metalogicon (Burnett).

  42. 42.

    Burnett, “Scientific Speculations,” p. 159.

  43. 43.

    Burnett, “Scientific Speculations,” p. 153. The notion of auctoritas thus becomes self-reinforcing.

  44. 44.

    William of Conches as cited by Burnett, “Scientific Speculations,” p. 154.

  45. 45.

    N.M. Häring, Commentaries on Boethuis by Thierry of Chartres and His School (Toronto, 1971), p. 568, as cited by Burnett, “Scientific Speculations,” p. 151.

  46. 46.

    Dronke, “Theirry of Chartres,” in Twelfth-Century Western Philosophy, ed. Dronke, p. 382.

  47. 47.

    Anticlaudianus, ed. R. Bossuat (Paris, 1955), III 426–429, IV 36–39, cited in Dronke, “Thierry of Chartres,” p. 382.

  48. 48.

    Astronomy was one of the four disciplines that made up the quadrivium, one of the seven liberal arts of Latin scholarship, which in its rejuvenated form was the backbone of medieval formal education. By the end of the twelfth century astronomy was a body of knowledge which had assimilated classical Latin works as well as texts translated from the eastern tradition; Aristotle, Ptolemy, and Abu Ma’shar were all translated and circulated. By the end of the thirteenth century scholars had access to a corpus astronomicum which demonstrated a largely standardized astronomical curriculum in the universities. By this time astronomy had developed beyond the astronomical table, which presented techniques of calculation, into a theorizing discourse. Nevertheless, observation necessarily remained the basis for conceiving of and demonstrating the validity of propositions. See Stephen C. McCluskey, Astronomies and Cultures in Early Medieval Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), pp. 189–192.

  49. 49.

    Indeed, it was within the realm of Christian orthodoxy that the heavens were interpreted as signs (but not causes). This tended to be limited to things such as comets or eclipses as signs of death. See McCluskey, p. 145.

  50. 50.

    Wendelin Foerster (ed.), Kristian von Troyes: Erec und Enide (Halle: Verlag von Hax Niemeyer, 1934), p. ll. 6744–6790.

  51. 51.

    Erec and Enide. D.D.R. Owen (ed. and trans.), Chrétien de Troyes: Arthurian Romances (London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1987), p. 89.

  52. 52.

    John of Salisbury, Metalogicon IV 13, ed. C.C.J. Webb, pp. 178–179, and Peter of Poitiers, Sententiae 4, ed. N.M. Häring, Die Swettler Summe (Münster, 1977), p. 25, as cited by Burnett, “Scientific Speculations,” p. 152, n. 5.

  53. 53.

    There is substantial literature in this field. Recent important works include Judith M. Bennett and Ruth Mazo Karras, The Oxford Handbook of Women and Gender in Medieval Europe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013); Emilie Amt (ed.), Women’s Lives in Medieval Europe: A Sourcebook, 2nd ed. (London and New York: Routledge, 2010); Helen M. Jewell, Women in Late Medieval and Reformation Europe 1200–1500 (Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007); Ruth Mazo Karras, Sexuality in Medieval Europe: Doing Unto Others (New York and London: Routledge, 2005).

  54. 54.

    Corinne Saunders, Rape and Ravishment in the Literature of Medieval England (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2001), pp. 24–25.

  55. 55.

    Pierre J. Payer, The Bridling of Desire: Views of Sex in the Later Middle Ages (Toronto; Buffalo; London: University of Toronto Press, 1993), p. 21, cited in Saunders, Rape and Ravishment, p. 25.

  56. 56.

    Saunders, Rape and Ravishment, p. 25.

  57. 57.

    For relevant textual extracts see Alcuin Blamires (ed.), Woman Defamed and Woman Defended: An Anthology of Medieval Texts (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992).

  58. 58.

    Aristotle, “The Generation of Animals,” in Woman Defamed and Woman Defended, ed. Blamires, p. 40.

  59. 59.

    “Compare the coagulation of milk. Here, the milk is the body, and the fig-juice or the rennet contains the principle which causes it to set.” From Aristotle, “The Generation of Animals,” in Woman Defamed and Woman Defended, ed. Blamires, p. 40.

  60. 60.

    The resistance of matter is linked to “‘disobedience’ to the male formative principle,” potentially threatening social order, and insufficiency is linked to it suspicious connection with menstrual blood. Joan Cadden, Nothing Natural is Shameful: Sodomy and Science in Late Medieval Europe (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013), p. 123.

  61. 61.

    Saunders, Rape and Ravishment, p. 27.

  62. 62.

    Cadden, Nothing Natural is Shameful, p. 114.

  63. 63.

    Michael Rocke, Forbidden Friendships: Homosexuality and Male Culture in Renaissance Florence (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), pp. 106–109, cited in Cadden, Nothing Natural is Shameful, p. 108.

  64. 64.

    Cadden, Nothing Natural is Shameful, p. 108.

  65. 65.

    Cadden, Nothing Natural is Shameful, pp. 108, 111.

  66. 66.

    As will be further discussed in Chapter 2 below.


Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jan Shaw
    • 1
  1. 1.University of SydneyDepartment of EnglishSydneyAustralia

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