Suicide in the Middle Ages - Vol. 2

Suicide in the Middle Ages - Vol. 2

Suicide in the Middle Ages - Vol. 2

Suicide in the Middle Ages - Vol. 2

Synopsis

A group of men dig a tunnel under the threshold of a house. Then they go and fetch a heavy, sagging object from inside the house, pull it out through the tunnel, and put it on a cow-hide to be dragged off and thrown into the offal-pit. Why should the corpse of a suicide DS for that is what itisDS have earned this unusual treatment? In The Curse on Self-Murder, the second volume of his three-part Suicide in the Middle Ages, Alexander Murray explores the origin of the condemnation of suicide, in a quest which leads along the most unexpected byways of medieval theology, law, mythology, andfolklore DSand, indeed, in some instances beyond them. At an epoch when there might be plenty of ostensible reasons for not wanting to live, the ways used to block the suicidal escape route give a unique perspective on medieval religion.

Excerpt

The writing of history is always a cooperative enterprise. This rule could be deduced from first principles, but in my case it is experience that has taught it, in the writing of a long book on this particular subject. The dramatis personae of the previous volume, the suicides, were too elusive to answer a search by one pair of eyes, so I relied on many fellow-searchers. This successor volume has drawn its need for cooperation from a different source, but one quite as demanding. We shall be scanning aspects of law as elusive as the suicides and even further-ranging, and I would have been ill-advised to begin it, let alone hope to bring it to the present stage, without help en route from good samaritans, each an expert in one part of the range. To begin the acknowledgements nearest my own home ground: Professor David Ganz opened his treasury of knowledge on late Carolingian writing schools; Dr Lesley Smith did the same for the medieval Bible; and Professor George Holmes and Dr Marco Doregatti on Dante. Since the theme of this entire volume lies, directly or indirectly, in the province of law, I am correspondingly conscious of my debts to Mr Patrick Wormald, who found time to comment on Chapters 5, 8, and 10; to Professor Thomas Charles-Edwards, who advised me on Irish law, and to Dr Kathleen Cushing, whose comments on the manuscript as a whole corrected me on more than one point in canon law. The length of this volume should not imply a pretence to have said the last word on its subject. Any such pretence, if there had been one (despite the protestation made on the first page of the previous volume), would anyway have melted in the course of a symposium on 'Suicide in Medieval English Law' held at Magdalen College, Oxford, in June 1999, whose organizers, Dr Andrew Lewis and Dr David Ibbetson, I thank for having invited me. The proceedings are published in the Journal of Legal History in April 2000, and I am sorry only that this volume was already too near publication to allow more than fleeting notice of what was said.

A step further from familiar medieval boundaries, my need of help was proportionately greater. I thank Professor Ernest Nicholson for advice on matters biblical, Dr Christopher Pelling, again, on classical Greek, and Dr Margaret Atkins, who kindly read and criticized the chapters on late Greek and patristic ethics, while on Origen I had the privilege of advice from Professor Henry Chadwick. In climates still further afield, a vagrant's helpless-

My only material observation on any of the contributions is mentioned on pp. 67–8 n. 41
below.

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