Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Metamorphosis and Identity

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Metamorphosis and Identity

Article excerpt

Caroline Walker Bynum, Metamorphosis and Identity (New York: Zone Books, 2001). 280 pp.; 15 figures. ISBN 1-890951-22-6. L19.50.

This is another collection of Caroline Walker Bynum's essays, two of the four well known and two others interlocking in interests. The tone of the tome is one of re-engagement with 'wonder': the historian's, and especially the medievalist's, mission to acknowledge and encounter that which astonishes and forces us to stop in our tracks in the sources of the past. Bynum sees historians, laden with theories and methods, as too keen to explain and thus to 'flatten' the past. She offers four related and somewhat overlapping essays in the exploration of this insight: following a short introduction, the first is 'Wonder', which surveys recent scholarship as well as three medieval discourses on wonders: the theological, the devotional, and that aimed at entertaining. In all of them there is respect for the framework of nature, and astonishment at the many forms which a god-created and god-enwondered world can take. The second essay, `Metamorphosis, or Gerald and the werewolf , is a reassessment of her The Resurrection of the Body (1995). The claim that early ideas on the resurrection of the body aimed to confront fears of body loss and loss of personhood were followed by the triumph of twelfth-century thinking over such fears is reasserted in her study through examples from three discourses which conceptualized bodily change: Ovidian poetic tradition, discussions of miracles, and speculation about the nature of werewolves. …

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