Les Chiens De Dieu: La Représentation Du Loup-Garou En Occident

By Lloyd-Morgan, Ceridwen | Medium Aevum, January 1, 1995 | Go to article overview

Les Chiens De Dieu: La Représentation Du Loup-Garou En Occident


Lloyd-Morgan, Ceridwen, Medium Aevum


Gaël Milin, Les Chiens de Dieu: La représentation du loup-garou en Occident (XI' - XX7 siècle (Brest: Centre de Recherche Bretonne et Celtique, 1995). 201 pp.; 10 illustrations. ISBN 2-901-737-12-9. No price given.

Even medievalists are not immune to the fascination of werewolves, and the striking, full-colour dust-jacket of this volume, showing a fine example of one of these predatory man-beasts, immediately catches the eye. The liveliness of the cover is not belied by the content, although this is no popularizing potboiler but a serious academic study based mainly on literary and folktale sources, complemented by illustrations contemporary to them. Combining extensive research with a clear and accessible style, the author surveys the traditions of werewolves or 'dogs of God' (the tide derives from Lithuanian tradition) from the Middle Ages onwards, first glancing at the preceding classical sources and early Germanic and Scandinavian analogues. Much of the earlier material will be familiar: from Petronius and Pliny to the medieval French narratives such as Marie de France's Bisclavret or the Roman de Renart, where the anthropomorphized wolf, Ysengrin, appears as a foil to the wily fox. But we are also taken off the beaten track to consider the misfortunes of Sir Marrok in Malory's Morte Darthur (though it is a pity that reference is made to Somme r's antiquated edition rather than to the modern one of Vinaver and Field) or the Irish werewolf couple whose punishment is recounted in the Topographia Hibernica of Giraldus Cambrensis (here inaccurately described as a 'clerc gallois' rather than a three-quarters Norman nobleman).

Taking a long time-scale has permitted Gaël Milin to demonstrate that the representation of the werewolf, and attitudes to the phenomenon, were never static but evolved along with society itself and the circumstances of people's lives. The study is arranged chronologically, with two substantial chapters being devoted to the Middle Ages. Here Milin's proven expertise in modem folklore methodology comes to the fore, enabling him to tease out new levels of meaning and revealing textual relationships in a fresh light. A discussion of early modern sources follows, the focus shifting, perforce, from the purely literary to the juridical sphere, since at this period the werewolf became increasingly conflated with witches and sorcerers, leading eventually to changes in the law in France. …

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