Medieval bestiaries present readers with allegorical interpretations of non-human animals, written on animal skins. The relationship between animal skin and animal tale is the starting point for this detailed and illuminating study of bestiaries written in French and Latin during the Middle Ages. For Sarah Kay, bestiaries are texts that both consciously and subconsciously invite a reading of the parchment page itself as well as what is written or drawn upon it. Taking as many of her main sources manuscript pages featuring tears, punctures, or holes in the parchment page, Kay provides a persuasive account of a long tradition of medieval scribes and artists who were intensely aware of the implications of writing on skin for the stories that they were transmitting. The bestiary is a space that constantly redefines the relationship between humans and animals, suspending the distinction between content and medium through a feedback loop described by Kay as ‘suture’. Positioning the representation of bestiary creatures in relation to language and the book, this study engages with texts from across the genre, including the ‘second-family’ Latin bestiary and the Bestiaire d’amours by Richard de Fournival. The first chapters consider the material form of bestiary manuscripts in relation to moments in the texts that draw attention to the fleshy nature of embodiment, such as the serpent and the hydrus shedding or tearing through skins. Kay demonstrates how the representation of animals through etymology and allegory, and the visual instruction on the parchment page, point towards the Sacra Pagina as a source for the revelation of history and of the future in Christian eschatological terms. Further chapters highlight questions raised by bestiary narratives of garments in and of skin, death and resurrection, sexuality and the senses, orifices, and kinship between humans and non-human animals. Kay’s approach to the texts draws on work from contemporary and twentieth-century philosophy, most especially Giorgio Agamben’s notion of the ‘anthropological machine’ and Didier Anzieu’s ‘Moi-peau’. These theoretical concepts are carefully balanced with insightful close readings of bestiary narratives and a keen eye for the development of the bestiary tradition over time, in particular the influence of twelfth-century neo-Platonism on the genre. These discussions culminate in some revealing arguments about how bestiaries may have been used by different types of readers, including women and teachers. This study, although based on close readings of individual manuscripts, is the product of extensive archival and theoretical study of the bestiary tradition as a whole. The Appendix offers a revised version of the chronology of Latin and French bestiary versions proposed by Florence McCulloch in Medieval Latin and French Bestiaries (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1962). A delightful addition to the book are the twenty-eight colour plates that convey the pleasure of the aesthetic experience of encountering bestiary manuscripts. This monograph will be of interest to students and scholars of medieval literature, and will surely reshape the ways that bestiaries are brought into current discussions of medieval literature and culture more generally. In the same vein, the scholarship here will appeal to a wider audience interested in animals and textual materiality. © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for French Studies. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
French Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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