David I. Shyovitz INTRODUCTION For classical and medieval authors, monstrous creatures were meaningful by definition--in St. Augustine's influential formulation, the very term ``monsters'' (monstra) ``come[s] from the [verb] monstrare, `show,' because they show [demonstrent] something by a sign.''1 But despite the pioneering studies of scholars like J. R. R. Tolkien and Rudolph Wittkower,2 early- and mid-twentieth-century historians were not always attuned to the inherent significance of medieval monsters. Rather, these and other ostensibly superstitious phenomena were confined to the margins of medieval intellectual history, in keeping with the broader tendency to portray the Middle Ages in a generally ``progressive'' light.3 In recent decades, however, as the 1 De civitate dei XXI:8; trans. in St. Augustine, The City of God Against the Pagans, trans. William M. Green (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1972), 7:57. For a lexicographical survey of the origins of the term ``monster,'' see John Block Friedman, The Monstrous Races in Medieval Art and Thought (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2000), 10830. 2 J. R. R. Tolkien, ``Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics,'' Proceedings of the British Academy 22 (1936): 24595; Rudolph Wittkower, ``Marvels of the East: A Study in the History of Monsters,'' Journal of the Warburg
Journal of the History of Ideas – University of Pennsylvania Press
Published: Oct 21, 2014
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