Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Holy and Noble Beasts: Encounters with Animals in Medieval Literature

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Holy and Noble Beasts: Encounters with Animals in Medieval Literature

Article excerpt

David Salter, Holy and Noble Beasts: Encounters with Animals in Medieval Literature (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer; Rochester, NY: Boydell & Brewer, 2001). VIII + 168 pp.; 2 plates. ISBN 0-85991-624-3. L35.00.

David Salter examines the function and characterization of animals in three groups of texts seen as having overlapping features: the saints' lives of Jerome and Francis; the romances of St Eustace, Sir Isumbras, Sir Gowther, Octavian, and Sir Orfeo (which move from the clearly hagiographic to the overtly secular); and the Middle English romances of Alexander. He also interprets two related pictorial representations: Colantonio's St Jerome and the Lion and Pisanello's The Vision of St Eustace.

The introductory discussion of views on and function of animals found in medieval literature (in particular its use of the Wife of Bath's 'Who peynted the leon') suggests that the interpretations offered will be more controversial than they are. Although St Francis is entertainingly and convincingly rescued from being the patron saint of ecology (and the possibility of alternative interpretations of animal narratives well illustrated through the stories of St Francis), the interpretations of the animals found in the chosen romances do not dispose one to argue. In this section too much time is spent contextualizing each romance (so curtailing the space available for a discussion of the central topic: e.g. of the eleven-page chapter on Sir Gowther fewer than four pages are devoted to the discussion of animals) rather than putting the animals under discussion into a broader, possibly more theoretical, context. …

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