Animal Anger in the Middle Ages

Program here.

Hello everyone. I’m so happy to be here, and so honored to have been invited. I apologize for my English. The text of my presentation is available on my website,, pictured here: you might like to refer to it as I speak.

As you have heard, I come to you as a scholar of medieval discourses of animals. I am currently working on a book to be called The Irrational Animal, on the problems and limits of the concept of “reason,” chiefly in the Middle Ages. Today’s talk contributes to that project.

I am, however, very new to the cultural study of emotions. My role as the first speaker is, therefore, not to offer myself up as an expert on emotions — such people are already among you — but rather as someone who can, so to speak, set the table for our conversations during this conference.

My title comes from the Biblical Book of Wisdom, a first-century Greek text recognized by some Christians, including Roman Catholics, as canonical.[1] The passage with “the rage of wild beasts” belongs to a chapter on the “infinite treasure” Wisdom has given the speaker, King Solomon: knowledge of

the revolutions of the year, and the dispositions of the stars, the natures of living creatures, and rage of wild beasts, the force of winds, and reasonings of men, the diversities of plants, and the virtues of roots.

When I chose this passage to title my talk, I had hoped to trace how medieval exegetes handled “the rage of wild beasts.” No luck: searches of the Patrilogia Latine and the Monumenta Germaniae Historica, two massive repositories of Christian Latin, reveal only a few references to this passage, which tend to quote it entire without singling out bestial rage for any special consideration.

Despite my disappointment, I can still observe, first, that the passage passed without worry or commentary — the anger of animals was just a known thing, as much a fact as human cogitation and the medicinal virtues of roots; second, how the passage distinguishes the “rage of wild beasts,” iras bestiarum in the Latin Vulgate, from humans with their cogitationes.[2] The passage distinguishes only humans and animals by what we might call the characteristic mentality of their relationship to things: winds blow, roots have virtues, but humans think and beasts rage, one opposed to the other. Whether the contrast between humans and beasts is also a contrast of “reason” to “emotion” is a key question, depending, in part, on whether bestial “ira” is actually an “emotion.” More on that later.

My paper today concerns how classical and medieval ideas of anger management thought about, and through, animals, and what this did to how they they thought about humans. I’ll first treat, quite briefly, the problem of definitions.[3] My main questions, however, will be on how classical and medieval sources understand anger as the emotion that is most ‘animalizing,’ that is, as the one that does the most damage to our humanity. I then ask how guides to anger control share language and methods with the domination of animals. I will finish by asking how the rational control of anger results in outcomes that we might describe as dehumanizing.

I have no intention of attempting any certain definition of “emotion.” A millennium’s debate in classical philosophy complicated more than clarified the question, so much so that Augustine’s City of God, in the early fifth century, had to begin its discussion of emotions with a terminological survey; the “movements of the soul,” he writes, that “the Greeks call páthē,” “certain Latin philosophers, like Cicero, call ‘perturbations,’ others ‘affections’ and still others, like Apuleius who keeps closer to the Greek, ‘passions.’”[4] Augustine has no intention of settling on any one of these. You’ll observe, too, that “emotion” is missing from his list, because that word appears only in late fifteenth century French, where it first had to do with the political disorder.[5] It would have to wait nearly another century before it referred securely to affective dispositions.

A work nearly contemporary with The City of God, Prudentius’s Psychomachia, offers further complications.[6] The Psychomachia, that is, a “soul-fight,” features a series of single combats between personified virtues and vices: among them, faith against idolatry, chastity versus lust, humility against pride, and, against patience, anger. Unable either to pierce Patience’s armor or disturb her unyielding tranquility, anger finally impales herself on her own spear. Anger here is a vice, like lust and idolatry. But is a “vice” the same thing as an “emotion”? Regardless of our answer, let me indicate a point I’ll return to later, which is that if anger is a vice, then we have to wonder whether nonhuman animals can be thought to feel it.

I focus on anger today because of its importance to the history of emotions in Anglophone scholarship indebted to Barbara Rosenwein for the Middle Ages and William Harris for classical philosophy.[7] It’s important, too, because of what may be a typical difficulty in narrowing anger down to one emotion: historical studies of anger routinely observe that Achilles’s famous ménis has a long-lasting, implacable quality that looks nothing like the hot flash we associate with “rage.”[8] When a first-century Latin Iliad itself opens with the word “iram,”[9] we have to ask how the classical writers also might have misunderstood each other’s vocabulary: so long as we are working in Latin, we expect Achilles to feel not ira, but furor, as furor was generally condemned, and ira, not necessarily.[10] And, as you know, the dol and ire of Old French each meld anger and grief.[11] We can never be quite sure how and whether modern “anger,” “colère,” and so on corresponds to perhaps only superficially similar premodern mental states.[12]

Whatever it is, anger particularly worried people. Seneca’s treatise De Ira, the longest work on the subject from the ancient world, explains that all other passions “have something calm and quiet about them; this one consists entirely in aroused assault.”[13] Anger therefore demands action, because of its threat of immediate, terrible consequences. Seneca wanted it controlled and eliminated; the monk Cassian mostly did too, but he allowed for acceptable anger directed inwardly against our own faults;[14] Augustine differed from Cassian in allowing the passions, including anger, to turned outwards too, “to the use of righteousness,” as when anger is used to correct a sin or a sinner.[15] Gregory the Great would further refine Augustine by terming such righteous anger “zeal.” With Augustine and Gregory, as with Aristotle, reason is not necessarily anger’s enemy: it is, ideally, its guide or master, as it is the right guide or master of all things. But, as Aquinas would say much later, “Of all the passions, anger is the most manifest obstacle to the judgment of reason.”[16] If there is to be a right anger, it needs reason, but without it, angers threatens to undo us altogether.

Because, as was occasionally observed, anger threatened our humanity: anger could make us animal, or, specifically, into certain kinds of animals. Not pecus, cattle that is, although Edmund Spenser’s Fairie Queene offers a rare exception when it describes the aggrieved Adicia, widow of a wicked Sultan, reacting to the death of her husband “like an enraged cow, / That is berobbed of her youngling dere” (V.8.46): at this point, Spenser cannot imagine a woman’s rage as anything other than maternal and domestic. Generally, though, no one is ever “angry like a sheep.” Instead, they are feral or bestial in their rage, like wild carnivores, occasionally mad like dogs, and sometimes like wild boars.

It is not just that anger makes us fight like fierce carnivores, although such similes are common in epic poetry, like Statius’s Thebiad, where warlike Theseus is likened to the grandeur of “great lions,”[17] or Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale, whose heroes, compared to a “mad lion” and “cruel tiger,” clash “like wild boars,” or the crusade epic Le Retour de Cornumarant, where knights watching a tournament are themselves “angry like wild boars concealed in the woods.”[18] Similes are weak evidence, however: in rhetoric, anything can be like something else, and often similes work best when they surprise most.

The key thing is that anger can also change us. Galen’s work on anger holds that “Man alone, as compared with other things, has the special gift of reason; if he casts this gift aside and indulges his anger, he is living and acting like a wild animal rather than a man.”[19] The Ancrene Wisse, a Middle English guide to anchorites, warns that anger causes us to lose our mild-heartedness, then our human nature, then transforms us into beasts, and finishes by turning us into wolves.[20] Or anger is itself a beast, as in the passage on anger in Mirour de l’Omme by the late fourteenth-century London poet John Gower, where melancholy, one of anger’s daughters, is “just like an unreasonable beast.”[21]

Overall, if anger makes us animal, it changes us into an unreasonable living thing, but one of a particular kind. We are not made unreasoningly dull or compliant. We do not become livestock, the paradigmatic dominated animals. In making us bestial, anger makes us into the opposite, into creatures at best indifferent to our reason, the post-Lapsarian dangerous animals of a world disordered by our sin: here I of course have the work of Pierre-Olivier in mind.[22] Anger is not necessarily reason’s opposite, but it may be the emotion that both most demands reason’s control and is best able to elude it.

A key question, though, is not whether animals can represent emotion — they can, since anything can represent anything else — but whether they can experience it themselves. If anger is a vice, as Prudentius among others portrays it, then animals cannot experience it, because nonhuman animals were generally understood to be irrational, and therefore lacking the free choice of the will that would make them morally responsible. A beast might be “vicious,” but only metaphorically so: it could no more be guilty of a vice than praised for a virtue. That argument, however, is not one literate thought often considered.

Seneca’s De Ira is an exception. He is an exception even despite resorting often to animal comparisons, when he calls anger a “bestial vice,” disdains the “inhuman bestiality” (feritas) of sadism, and condemns the repulsive bestiality (feritatem) of anger.[23] He nonetheless insists that no animal can experience anger, precisely because anger requires rational assent:

though anger is reason’s enemy, it comes into being only where reason resides. Wild animals have impulses [imputus]—frenzy, ferocity, aggression—but they no more have anger than they have Luxury ….Animals incapable of speech lack human passions, though they have certain impulses that resemble passions….animals are barred not only from human virtues, but also from human vices.[24]

Seneca even takes Ovid himself to task for writing a scene in his Metamorphoses in which the “boar forget[s] its anger.”[25] Impossible, he explains: “animals incapable of speech,” muta animalia, are too dissimilar to us, both internally and externally, to feel in a way he would recognize as “emotional.” So much for poetry. For, Seneca persists, just as bestial tongues cannot form precise sounds, their “ruling principle,” regium…principale, cannot guide them with any refinement, so although their procursus, their outbreaks, might seem to resemble worry and sadness and anger, they quickly subside, turning into their opposite. He does not bother to explain why a merely temporary feeling fails to count as an emotion: his point, in this somewhat desperate jumble of arguments, is simply to close the fence to keep animals out with whatever rhetoric he has on hand.[26]

Seneca’s conclusions should strike us as counterintuitive: I’m sure we’ve all had unpleasant encounters with a dogs we’d likely describe as “angry.” His goal is not to deny that behavior, or even the animal feeling; rather, his goal is to bar nonhuman animals from participation in the life of virtuous restraint he advocates. For Seneca, anger is something that can be mastered. If anger originates in reason, it can respond to reason’s stern guidance. Allowing irrational animals to experience anger would therefore remove anger from the rational mastery that is at the heart of virtue. Seneca’s Stoical aims would be frustrated.

At present, I find Seneca idiosyncratic. Medieval readers generally encountered De Ira only in excerpts,[27] and his animals passage is tellingly absent from the usual places medieval writers differentiate nonhuman animals from humans. On such questions, reason was the chief concern, and if emotion was considered — as it is at length by Aquinas — it is typically considered only as an adjunct to reason: the studies by Anselm Oelze and Ian P. Wei of how animals featured in the thought of scholastic philosophy attest generally to worries about whether animals have prudence or can form abstract concepts, and, more generally, argue that animals lack nonsensory or incorporeal cognition, as this can be exercised only by rational beings. The efforts of scholastic philosophers to bar animals from moral responsibility and considerability simply did not require much reference to emotion.[28]

Furthermore, I have been surprised so far by the absence of animal tropes of anger in places I expected to find them, a point, I admit I might have brought up earlier in my talk. Alcuin of York’s work On the Virtues and Vices, a very widely read moral treatise, calls anger “one of the eight principle vices,” which, if uncontrolled by reason, turns “into a raging fury.”[29] But he makes no animal comparisons at all. The same is true for La Somme le Roi, a thirteenth-century moral treatise, also widely read and often translated, with a section devoted to the vice of anger. This absence is not atypical: it took more work than I expected to assemble by examples of anger troped as animals.

A key instance: animal comparisons did not operate at all as I expected in an often-referenced work for scholars of fourteenth-century England, John Gower’s Vox Clamantis. The work merits some attention because it otherwise seems perfect for considering the problem of anger and animals. Gower famously begins with an oneiric treatment of England’s Great Revolt, which, in summer of 1381, saw the burning of documents, the murder of an archbishop, the near execution of the future Henry IV, the slaughter of foreign workers, and the immolation of the Savoy Palace, owned by John of Gaunt, then England’s richest man. Gower’s dream vision infamously imagines the rebels as animals. But it is not their anger that draws his attention: it is their disobedience. For Gower, the rebels are essentially livestock that have ceased to know their place. The problem is not that they are animals; it is that they are acting like the wrong kind of animals.[30] They are donkeys that want to be horses, oxen to be lions or bears, pigs to be wolves or tigers, gorging themselves on food suitable only for the rich. Gower speaks often of their loss of reason, but their irrationality lies less in their being animals than in their not doing what they should do. “Irrationality” here means disrupting the status quo, that which was generally understood to be socially “reasonable.”[31]

Essentially, whether animals are angry or not did not really exercise medieval writers. Anger is a human problem, not an animal one, because anger was chiefly understood as a moral problem and a problem of social disruption. Neither of these were matters than have anything to do with animals, as animals were generally thought to have no social life of their own. In short, the affective state of disobedient and dangerous animals mattered far less than the mere fact of their occasional disobedience and danger.

Despite all this, tropes of animalization still underlie these discussions of anger, but indirectly. This indirection is due in part to the animal itself often being no more than the indirect subject of medieval animal writing. Writing about the animal in relation to humans tends to use the animal only as a figure or representative to help guide human behavior. As a figure, the animal represents a form of life incapable of thinking outside itself, unable to control its impulses, barred from having a life that could matter except as an instrument to be used by rational subjects. In such writing, we, the supposed rational subjects, use the figure of the animal to police the boundaries of our rationality, and to insult others for their supposed irrationality, using the animal to represent how little how lives matter if they stray from the boundaries of status quo rationality.

Any characterization of human behavior as “irrational” is therefore to some degree an animal comparison, likely nowhere so much as with descriptions of anger. This is how we might hear the common characterization of anger as a kind of madness, which we find, of course, in Seneca, in Roger Bacon’s Opus Major, where “anger reduces reason to insanity and madness,”[32] and in many Middle English moral treatments of anger: the Ancrene Wisse, which, prior to calling anger bestial, terms it a “brief madness.”[33] La Somme de Roi says that angry people “act like a mad man, careless about what vessels they break.”[34] John Mirk’s versified guide for parish clergy instructs the priest to ask penitents if “they have been so wrathful / that they have lost their wits.”[35] More unusual is a simile the Old English writer Cynewulf added to his translation of a martyrdom of Saint Julia, where a tyrant “went mad in his mind like a wild animal.”[36]

Furthermore, if language is so indispensably a mark of the rational animal that “muteness” functions as a synonym for “irrational” in medieval writing about beasts, then the loss of language occasioned by anger also animalizes. The humiliated friar of Chaucer’s Summoner’s Tale is so angry that he “can scarcely speak a word,”[37] while the sullenly angry of Dante’s Inferno, sunk in muck, are unable to produce a coherent word, “parola integra” (VII.126). What is this gurgled sound — gorgolian is Dante’s verb — but the vox confusa, the indistinct voice, a phrase from medieval grammatical theory for classifying the unwritable sounds of most irrational animals?[38] To the degree that anger escapes the control of reason, it changes us into irrational life, with indistinct, uncontrolled thoughts and incomprehensible, witless sound, and thus, temporarily, into something at least like an animal.

A less obvious, but paired trope of animalization in moral treatment of anger is the language of restraint, which, I’ll argue, is at least also implicitly about animals. The foundational volumes on medieval emotional mentalities, the usual targets of modern historians, are especially guilty of such language.[39] Johann Huizinga’s 1919 Waning of the Middle Ages characterizes medieval emotional life like so: “All things presenting themselves to the mind in violent contrasts and impressive forms, len[ding] a tone of excitement and of passion to everyday life and tend[ing] to produce [a] perpetual oscillation between despair and distracted joy”:[40] although he is implicitly comparing medieval people to children, he could just as well be echoing Seneca’s suppositions about the mercurial and restless affects of animals. Norbert Elias’s 1939 Civilizing Process picks up this point when it describes medieval people as “wild, cruel, prone to violent outbreaks,” with nothing “in their situation to compel them to impose restraint upon themselves.”[41] For Elias, what is lacking here is not just modernity, but modernity as rationality, and rationality as control.[42]

The call for control of the irrational, paired with the claim that we become modern subjects through this control, is how their work animalizes medieval people. My own work on animals has long observed that mainstream medieval thinking about animals held that we know ourselves to be rational beings, superior to nonhuman animals, because we subject them to our wishes. For example, Augustine’s On the Free Choice of the Will proves that humans have reason, and therefore free choice, and therefore, as well, moral culpability, by pointing out that we never submit to animals but they submit to us. Certainly, he admits, we might fall prey to them on occasion, but in general, we are their masters. What better name for that quality that controls them, he asks, than reason?[43] As oddly reasoned as they were, such conclusions were the common coin of medieval intellectuals. Among my favorite examples is Ratramnus of Corbie’s “Letter on the Dog-Heads,” a strange short work from the ninth century where he wonders whether these legendary creatures, the Cynocephali, should be sent missionaries. He concludes that regardless of their appearance, they are rational beings, not because of their clothing, laws, or cities, although they have all these, but because they domesticate other animals. In these and in so many other instances, the subjugation of animals, which transforms them from wild beasts to livestock, is at the heart of how we know ourselves to be rational human subjects.[44]

We can witness this in the common medieval analogy of body to soul to the relationship of horse to rider. Plato’s original analogy, from his Phaedrus and Republic, had a charioteer managing two horses, one bad, one good. This image would be simplified by later writers, John Chrysostom for example, because orthodox Christians needed a better analogy to counter dualist heresies that condemned the body.[45] Instead of two horses, the analogy now had just one, in which the soul, the seat of reason, guides the horse of the body, towards good or towards ill, with responsibility for sin lying not in the body but in our soul’s own decisions. The body of the human self, part of what Caroline Walker Bynum called a “psychosomatic unity” in mainstream medieval Christian,[46] is all at once indissolubly us, our animal self, and an animal to be dominated, so that the proper relation of self to itself is also one of animal domestication. We cannot do with the body, but we cannot be fully what we should be without continually exercising restraint over the animal that is (also) ourselves.

Language like this, of the control of social and spiritual inferiors, suffuses moral writing on anger. Seneca warns that in anger, reason, which should have the reins, freni, instead becomes a slave to what pushes it along.[47] Slavery is not the problem here, certainly not for Seneca. Rather, the problem is the slave or the bridled thing not remaining in its position of due obedience. Galen’s own work on anger likewise argues that “just as we exercise our horses and dogs in the practice of obedience, we must also cultivate obedience in our soul.”[48] And Gregory the Great’s influential consideration of anger in his Moralia, where he distinguishes righteous zeal from sinful rage, winds up its argument with a passage that could hardly be more crowded with the language of domination. Zeal is anger “subjected to reason,” remaining in “the mind’s control,” “restrained,” so that we are our own “conquerors.”[49]

In short, if the foundational evidence of our unique possession of reason among worldly life is not in our writing philosophical treatises or building cities but in the mastery of nonhuman animals, and if the idealized treatment of anger is to subject it to rational control, then the control of anger is at least implicitly likened to the control of animals through which we know ourselves to be human. Anger, mastered by self-control, is at the very least a model of the foundational humanizing relationship of the human domination of animals.

That said, and as I have emphasized, reason was not necessarily anger’s enemy, and, indeed, reason, gone awry, could lead anger into even worse excesses. The Summa on the Vices of William Peraldus, Aquinas, and Middle English works like Chaucer’s Parson’s Tale — not a narrative, but rather a massive prose treatise on the virtues and vices — and La Somme le Roi, all of these hold that wrath is a fault only if it remains with you after you deliberate on it.[50] But thinking on it, and persisting it in, can turn anger into a deadly sin.

But ideally, reason would talk us out of that. We could respond to anger with patience, neutralizing a vice with a corresponding virtue, as Prudentius illustrates, or per the advice of Caesarius of Heisterbach, whose section on anger in his Dialogue on Miracles encourages monks to endure the anger of others, however unjust it might be, to preserve monastic goodwill.[51] We could sink back into serenity, free of the passions altogether, as with Seneca. But moral commentary that recognizes the necessity of anger in an imperfect world knows find uses for anger. Following a path set as far back as Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, it calls for anger to be bound with reason, guided away from excess, and turned to useful ends.[52]

Rational anger is something quite different from the absence of anger. We can observe this point not just in medieval moral writing, but also in historians of emotion, which often make sense of how emotions had sense, so that medieval anger can be understood not as irrational but as deliberately channeled at an appropriate target in the service of some abstract value, like the peace of the realm, the dignity of the throne, or the rights of an abbey. But the key point, too, is that rational anger is also not necessarily without violence.[53] A highly hierarchical economic system characterized by labor exploitation and resource hording, indifferent to investments in the general good, is fundamentally violent. It experiences attempted disruptions as themselves acts of violence. We cannot presume that such a system would censure what we might typically call “angry actions,” corporeal and capital punishment, for example, so long as they are carried out in the service of the status quo.

I think here of a Middle English treatise on the Ten Commandments, titled Dives and Pauper, which, in its section on the Sixth Commandment does not, as did Augustine, simply mock the idea that animals could be protected by a prohibition of killing.[54] Dives and Pauper admits that animals must be killed, but it argues that they should be killed only when needed, and without pleasure.[55] Small comfort for the animals, to be slaughtered by high-minded butchers who rationally refuse to treat them as anything other than future flesh! These acts are deadly, but, if done as they were supposed to be done, the butchers and their clientèle would not have thought of them as violence, and by no means as acts done out of anger.

Common too in the moral treatment of anger are discussions of punishment, which, these works assert, must never be carried out in a state of anger. Galen repeats his father’s advice never to beat a slave while angry. Slavers should wait until the passion subsided, and then use “a rod or whip to inflict as many blows as they wished and to accomplish this act with reflection.”[56] Seneca similarly praises Plato for never beating his slaves while angry: instead, if a slave upset him, he had nephew Speusippus do the beating on his behalf.[57] Seneca also guides the ruler in appropriate capital punishment: it should be done without any regard for anger over the past event, but instead with an eye only for the future, so the torture or execution of the criminal or traitor will warn others away from the same activity. And John of Salisbury’s twelfth-century Policraticus approvingly repeats a story about one of Plutarch’s slaves, who accused him of anger while he was being flogged: on the contrary, replied Plutarch, one must imagine clause by clause, between blows: “my eyes are not wild nor my face upset, nor am I shouting frightfully, nor am I beginning to erupt with frothing and redness, nor do I speak scandalously or obscenely, nor finally do I quiver all over with rage or gesture wildly.”[58] So long as he is not angry, there is nothing, it seems, for which he could be condemned.

I offer the story of the Erkenbald of Burbay as a last, especially chilling example of anger mastered by reason. First told by Caesarius of Heisterbach to exemplify justice, the exemplum migrates in the Middle English Jacob’s Well to become the final story of his warnings against the “filth of anger.”[59] While in his deathbed, Erkenbald, famous for the fairness of his judgments, learns that his nephew has attempted to rape someone. He orders his execution, but the knights so charged refuse to carry it out. The nephew foolishly stays home instead of fleeing. For, when Erkenbald, temporarily out of bed, sees his nephew alive, he approaches him, speaks sweetly to him — the Middle English uses the verb “glosyd,” suggesting a kind of deception — and then, while embracing him, draws his knife and slits his throat. Later, a priest comes to hear his last confession, and is surprised that Erkenbald omits any mention of the killing. He explains:

That was no sin, and therefore I ask for no mercy; for I did it not for wrath and vengeance, but I did it for equity and rightful judgment, which I have carried out my whole life to friend and foe. For I loved my nephew as well as any of my kin, but, because of the equity of my law and my position, I could not spare him.[60]

Caesarius’s Latin original is precise and technical: “he was not killed from any grudge or any movement of anger, but only from fear of God and my zeal,” his zeal, note that Gregorian word, “for justice.”[61] The priest refuses Erkenbald the sacrament, but to no end, because God miraculously transports it into Erkenbald’s mouth.

This, to me, is the endpoint of anger mastered, which is also a mastery of the self. Anger is like a beast, and like a beast, it should be dominated. Reason is the instrument of domination, which tames this wild beast into a domesticated animal. Anger does not disappear, then; rather, its force, and its aims, are channeled towards ends that have nothing to do with the needs or passions of any individual.[62] The rationally angry should carry out deeds only in the service of the impersonal requirements of abstract ideals, like justice.

One end goal of anger management, then, combines the domestication of animals with what I would propose as the depersonalization and even dehumanization of the properly angry agent. Although Erkenbald had love for his nephew, he acted without love when he killed, just as much as he acted without personal anger, even though he deprived himself of his own kin. It’s this impersonal, inhuman aspect of reason that I’d like to leave us with at present, where reason’s mastery produces something that most of us could only with difficulty recognize as human.[63]

Thank you for listening to my first attempts to think through these matters. I look forward to the discussion.

  1. Pierre-Maurice Bogaert, “The Latin Bible, c. 600 to c. 900,” in The New Cambridge History of the Bible: Volume 2: From 600 to 1450, ed. E. Ann Matter and Richard Marsden (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 70.
  2. The Greek original is thymoús thiríon (θυμοùς θηρíων).
  3. For later [[Regarding animals and emotions: I want to mark, incidentally, that several of the classical and medieval sources on anger characterize anger at animals and anger at inanimate objects, like doors (eg Galen 38 and 43), as equally pointless. As Harris observes, Galen et al classify anger at doors as more condemnable than anger at slaves]]
  4. Saint Augustine, The City of God, Books VIII-XVI, trans. Gerald G. Walsh and Grace Monahan, Fathers of the Church 14 (Washington D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1952), IX.4, 80.
  5. Damien Boquet and Piroska Nagy, Medieval Sensibilities: A History of Emotions in the Middle Ages, trans. Robert Shaw (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2018), 6. Vincent Léthumier, “Les émotions épistolaires des princes ligueurs de la Guerre folle (1485-1488). Des stratégies discursives au service d’une légitimation de la dissidence politique,” Hypothèses 24, no. 1 (2023): 133–41.
  6. Prudentius, Works, trans. H. J. Thomson, Loeb Classical Library 387 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1949).
  7. An efficient survey of medieval clerical writing on anger: Kate McGrath, Royal Rage and the Construction of Anglo-Norman Authority, c. 1000-1250 (Cham: Springer International Publishing, 2019), 68–80. [for q/a/further development: I differentiate my approach from Rosenwein’s focus on emotional communities, which tends to study how people belong to each other through emotional practices. While recognizing the importance of how she makes social sense of emotion, my approach focuses instead on the exclusionary forces of talk about emotion. It’s time to swing back the other way, perhaps]
  8. Representative discussion: Thomas Dixon, “What Is the History of Anger a History Of?,” Emotions: History, Culture, Society 4, no. 1 (2020): 14. More influential: William V. Harris, Restraining Rage: The Ideology of Anger Control in Classical Antiquity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004), 50–70.
  9. Susanna Braund and Giles Gilbert, “An ABC of Epic Ira: Anger, Beasts, and Cannibalism,” in Ancient Anger: Perspectives from Homer to Galen, ed. Glenn W. Most and Susanna Braund, Yale Classical Studies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 250.
  10. Cathérine Peyroux, “Gertrude’s Furor: Reading Anger in an Early Medieval Saint’s Life,” in Anger’s Past: The Social Uses of an Emotion in the Middle Ages, ed. Barbara H. Rosenwein (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998), 36–55.
  11. Stephen J Spencer, “‘Like a Raging Lion’: Richard the Lionheart’s Anger during the Third Crusade in Medieval and Modern Historiography*,” The English Historical Review 132, no. 556 (2017): 506. Good discussion of early medieval Latin vocabulary: R. F. Newbold, “The Nature of Anger in Gregory of Tours’ Libri Historiarum,” Nottingham Medieval Studies 51 (2007): 23–24. Rolf H. Bremmer Jr, “Looking Back at Anger: Wrath in Anglo-Saxon England,” The Review of English Studies 66, no. 275 (2015): 427–29, develops the foundational work by Caroline Gevaert on the semantic range and common metaphors of the Old English words for anger.
  12. Michael Potegal and Raymond W. Novaco, “A Brief History of Anger,” in International Handbook of Anger: Constituent and Concomitant Biological, Psychological, and Social Processes, ed. Michael Potegal, Gerhard Stemmler, and Charles Spielberger (New York, NY: Springer, 2010), 9–24, is evidence of the difficulties of transcultural and transhistorical study.
  13. Lucius Annaeus Seneca, “On Anger,” in Anger, Mercy, Revenge, trans. Robert A. Kaster (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012), 14.
  14. Institutes VIII.7-9, “Yet we have a function for anger placed quite appropriately within us, and for this purpose alone it is useful and beneficial for us to take it up–when we wax indignant against the wanton movements of our heart and are angered at things that we are ashamed to do or to say in the sight of human beings but that have found their way into the recesses of our heart.” Note, however, that the Somme le roi, one of the most widespread late medieval works on the virtues and vices, begins its section on anger by warning against the deadly vice of too much anger at the self: 3 Middle English translations, Pamela Graydon and Richard Morris, eds., Dan Michel’s Ayenbite of Inwyt: Or, Remorse of Conscience. Richard Morris’s Transcription Now Newly Collated with the Unique MS. British Museum MS. Arundel 57, 1866 rev., EETS o. s. 23 (London: Oxford University Press, 1965), 29; Emmanuelle Roux, ed., Two Middle English Translations of Friar Laurent’s “Somme le roi,” Textes vernaculaires du moyen âge 8 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2010), 13 and 77.
  15. Augustine, City of God VIII-XVI, IX.5, 84. For Aristotle, “Now we praise a man who feels anger on the right grounds and against the right persons and also in the right manner and at the right moment and for the right length of time,” Nicomacheaen Ethics 4.5.3, 1125b, quoted in Braund and Gilbert, “An ABC of Epic Ira,” 283.
  16. Aquinas, Summa Theologica I-II, q. 48, a. 3.
  17. Quoted from Braund and Gilbert, “An ABC of Epic Ira,” 256.
  18. Emanuel J. Mickel, ed., Les enfances Godefroi: and, Le retour de Cornumarant, The Old French Crusade Cycle III (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1999), “puis guencissent ariere les bons chevax norois / irié comme sengler, qui cachiés est en bois” (1247-48). For pointing me to this passage, Friedrich Bangert, Die Tiere im altfranzösischen Epos (Marburg: N.G. Elwert, 1885).
  19. Galen, On the Passions and Errors of the Soul, trans. Paul W. Harkins (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1963), 43.
  20. “Sone se he leoseth mildheortnesse, he leoseth monnes cunde, ant wreaththe, the forschuppilt, forschuppeth him into beast, as ich ear seide. Ant hwet yef eni ancre, Jesu Cristes spuse, is forschuppet into wulvene?”
  21. William Burton Wilson, “A Translation of John Gower’s Mirour de l’Omme” (PhD Thesis, Miami, Florida, University of Miami, 1970, l. 3920; “ainz comme noun resonnable beste,” from John Gower, The Complete Works of John Gower: The French Works, ed. G. C. Macaulay (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1899).
  22. Pierre-Olivier Dittmar, “Le seigneur des animaux entre ‘pecus’ et ‘bestia’ : Les animalités paradisiaques des années 1300,” in Adam, le premier homme, ed. Agostino Paravicini Bagliani, Micrologus Library 45 (Florence: Edizioni del Galluzzo, 2012), 219–54.
  23. Quotations are from Seneca, 18 (“ferum … uitium”), 19 (“inhumana feritas”), and 64 (“ Necessarium est itaque foeditatem eius ac feritatem coarguere”). [[Incidentally — and I’m not quite sure what to do with this yet — Gower’s Mirour also compares hatred, another of anger’s daughters, to a camel, which, when struck, delays its revenge until it can “kill or wound the one who struck him”; similarly, Jacob’s Well, imagines anger as a wolf, which likewise waits in malice to fulfill its vengeance.]]
  24. Seneca, 17.
  25. “Irasci”: the passage belongs to section, 7.545–46, that describes a plague so horrific that even the animals lose their habitual behaviors.
  26. Harris, Restraining Rage, 115, “Quintilian was right, even if his motives were mixed, when he said that Seneca was ‘lazy at philosophy but a fine chastiser of vice.'”
  27. For example, the section on wrath in a preaching aid by Bartholomew of Pisa, De documenta antiquorum, quotes Seneca on anger 30 times: Marc B. Cels, “Anger in Thomas of Ireland’s Manipulus florum and in Five Texts for Preachers,” Florilegium 29 (2012): 155.
  28. Anselm Oelze, Animal Rationality: Later Medieval Theories 1250-1350 (Leiden: Brill, 2018); Ian P. Wei, Thinking about Animals in Thirteenth-Century Paris: Theologians on the Boundary Between Humans and Animals (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020). For a sample of scholastic material on animal mental dispositions (friendship, fear, hope, etc), see Anselm Oelze, Animal Minds in Medieval Latin Philosophy: A Sourcebook from Augustine to Wodeham, Studies in the History of Philosophy of Mind 27 (Cham: Springer International Publishing, 2021), 145–73. I use “moral considerability” as it is used here, Lori Gruen, “The Moral Status of Animals,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2017,, “To say that a being deserves moral consideration is to say that there is a moral claim that this being can make on those who can recognize such claims. A morally considerable being is a being who can be wronged.” Notably, Aquinas is willing to grant animals emotions on the basis of their behavior, which he refuses absolutely to do with their seemingly rational actions: Summa Theologica I-II, q. 40, a. 3 (“Hope in Dumb Animals), “The internal passions of animals can be gathered from their outward movements: from which it is clear that hope is in dumb animals.” That willingness in itself suggests that animal emotions did not worry Aquinas.
  29. Quoted from Albrecht Classen, “Anger and Anger Management in the Middle Ages: Mental-Historical Perspectives,” Mediaevistik 19 (2006): 25.
  30. Here I distinguish myself from Paul H. Freedman, “Peasant Anger in the Late Middle Ages,” in Anger’s Past, ed. Rosenwein, 177–78.
  31. John Gower, The Major Latin Works of John Gower: The Voice of One Crying, and the Tripartite Chronicle, trans. Eric W. Stockton (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1962).
  32. Quoted in Classen, “Anger,” 30, “”ira rationem deducit in insaniam et furorem.”
  33. Robert Hasenfratz, ed., Ancrene Wisse (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2000), III.32, “Ira furor brevis est. Wreaththe is a wodschipe.”
  34. From Arthur Brandeis, ed., Jacob’s Well: An Englisht Treatise on the Cleansing of Man’s Conscience, EETS o.s. 115 (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., 1900), 92, “faryst as a wood man, & recchyst neuere what vessell þou brekyst,” which gets this passage from La Somme le Roi. See also Graydon and Morris, Dan Michel’s Ayenbite of Inwyt, I.30, “Vor þe man is oþerhyl zuo out of his wytte: þet ha beat and smit and wyf and children and mayné. and brekþ potes and coppes ase ha were out of his wytte. and zuo he is,” and similar passages in Roux, Somme le roi, 13 and 77.
  35. John Mirk, Instructions for Parish Priests, ed. Edward Peacock, EETS o. s. 31 (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., 1868), ll. 1139-40.
  36. Translation quoted from Bremmer, “Looking Back at Anger,” 441., “wedde on gewitte | swa wilde deor.” The Latin original lacks the animal comparison: Michael Lapidge, “Cynewulf and the Passio S. Iulianae,” in Unlocking the Wordhord: Anglo-Saxon Studies in Memory of Edward B. Irving, Jr., ed. Mark C. Amodio and Katherine O′Brien O′Keeffe (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003), 164, “”Et cum haec uidisset praefectus, iratus scidit uestimenta sua et cum gemitu uituperauit deos quare non inuicem portuerunt illam ledere, quibus et ipsis iniuriam fecesset.”
  37. “Unnethes myghte the frere speke a word” (III. 2168).
  38. An excellent study of medieval grammatical theory and animals: Robert Stanton, “Bark Like a Man: Performance, Identity, and Boundary in Old English Animal Voice Catalogues,” in Animal Languages in the Middle Ages: Representations of Interspecies Communication, ed. Alison Langdon, The New Middle Ages (Cham: Springer International Publishing, 2018), 91–111.
  39. In addition to the Rosenwein, cited below, one key record in English of the critique of Elias is Linda A. Pollock, “Anger and the Negotiation of Relationships in Early Modern England,” The Historical Journal 47, no. 3 (2004): 568–71 and 587. See also Boquet and Nagy, Medieval Sensibilities, 4–5.
  40. Quoted from Barbara H. Rosenwein, “Worrying about Emotions in History,” The American Historical Review 107, no. 3 (2002): 823.
  41. Quoted from Rosenwein, 826.
  42. See the comments in Barbara H. Rosenwein, “Thinking Historically about Medieval Emotions,” History Compass 8, no. 8 (2010): 828–29.
  43. Karl Steel, How to Make a Human: Animals and Violence in the Middle Ages (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2011), 34–35.
  44. For more detailed treatment, Steel, 146–50.
  45. A foundational study: Mary Ursula Vogel, Some Aspects of the Horse and Rider Analogy in The Debate between the Body and the Soul (Washington D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1948).
  46. She uses the phrase often in The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, 200-1336 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995).
  47. Seneca, “On Anger,” 20.
  48. Galen, Passions and Errors, 46.
  49. For now, English translation via John Henry Parker and J Rivington, Morals on the Book of Job (London: 1844), Book V.xlv.78-83 — note to self: get Cistercian Press Moralia translation Vol 1., see if Brepols has good ed], Jacques Paul Migne, ed., Patrilogiae Cursus Completus: Series Latina, 217 vols. (Paris, 1844), 75: 727A-B: “subdita rationi,” “mentis dominium,” “restringat,” “victor suus.”
  50. Brandeis, Jacob’s Well, 98–99, “Ȝif þi wretthe be wyth-oute delyberacyoun and wyth-oute consentyng of resoun, it is venyal synne; Ȝif it be wyth desyre of wreche, it is dedly synne.” Chaucer: “Now understand that wicked Anger is in two manners; that is to say, sudden Anger or hasty Anger, without aforethought and consenting of reason. The meaning and the sense of this is that the reason of a man consents not to this sudden Anger, and then is it venial. Another Anger is very wicked, that comes of felony of heart aforethought and planned before, with wicked will to do vengeance, and thereto his reason consents. and truly this is deadly sin,” translation quoted from
  51. Caesarius of Heisterbach, The Dialogue on Miracles, trans. C. C. Swinton Bland and Henry von Essen Scott, 2 vols. (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1929), 1: 214-16.
  52. In a very complicated way! As this paper develops, I will work out Aquinas’s observation that reason can both enable and hinder anger. His analogy, drawn from Aristotle, surprises: “Wherefore the Philosopher says (De Problem. iii, 2,27) that whose who are very drunk, so as to be incapable of the use of reason, do not get angry: but those who are slightly drunk, do get angry, through being still able, though hampered, to form a judgment of reason,” I-II, art. 46, q. 4, obj. 1. Cels, “Anger in Thomas,” 159, observes that thirteenth-century preachers’ manuals tend not to use the new thought on anger from Aquinas and Aristotle but only the well-worn ideas of Seneca, Augustine, and Gregory the Great.
  53. The paragraph that follows necessarily has in mind Rob Nixon, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013), and Slavoj Žižek, Violence: Six Sideways Reflections (New York: Picador, 2008).
  54. Demetrius B. Zema and Gerald G. Walsh, trans., The City of God, Books I–VII, The Fathers of the Church 8 (Washington D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1950)., I.20, 52-53.
  55. Priscilla Heath Barnum, ed., Dives and Pauper, EETS o. s. 275, 280 (London: Oxford University Press, 1976), 35–36. For more detailed discussion, Steel, How to Make a Human, 134–35.
  56. Galen, Passions and Errors, 39.
  57. Seneca, “On Anger,” 73.
  58. Quoted from Classen, “Anger,” 28. For more on slavery and corporeal “punishment” in classical writing about anger, Harris, Restraining Rage, 317–36. Slavers were chiefly concerned with their own dignity and with preventing revolt; the well-being of enslaved people was only incidental to their concerns. I will eventually draw on related, as yet unpublished work, by Joseph Howley.
  59. Brandeis, Jacob’s Well, 95–97. The classification of the tale as about anger may be unique: it originally represented justice: Caesarius of Heisterbach, The Dialogue on Miracles, trans. C. C. Swinton Bland and Henry von Essen Scott (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1929), 140–42, as it does in Mary Macleod Banks, ed., An Alphabet of Tales. An English 15th-Century Translation of the Alphabetum Narrationum, EETS o. s. 126-7 (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., 1904), 287–89, and Marian Aguilar y Fuster, ed., Recull de eximplis e miracles, gestes e faules e altres ligendes ordenades per A-B-C (Barcelona: Alvar Verdaguer, 1881), 336–38. A version in a mid fourteenth-century Dominican manuscript from Wrocław concerns a knight, Reinaldus, who kills his own only son: Reinaldus speaks only of justice (not anger), while denying his paternity (“ideo non filium”): Joseph Klapper, ed., Erzählungen des mittelalters in deutscher übersetzung und lateinischem urtext (Breslau: M. & H. Marcus, 1914), 336–37. For John Major, Magnum speculum exemplorum ex plusquam octoginta auctoribus (Douai: Balthazar Bellère, 1611), 311–12, it concerns the Eucharist. Foundational studies: Laura A. Hibbard, “Erkenbald the Belgian: A Study in Medieval Exempla of Justice,” Modern Philology 17, no. 12 (1920): 669–78, which proposes a link with the Middle English Saint Erkenwald; visual representations, Campbell Dodgson, “An Illustration by Holbein of the Legend of Herkinbald,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 3, no. 3/4 (1940): 241–43.
  60. Brandeis, Jacob’s Well, 96, “þat was no synne, & þerfore I asked no mercy; for I dede it noȝt for wretthe & vengeaunce, but I dyd it for equite of ryghtfull demyng, whiche I haue kept in my doom all my lyve to freend & fo; for I louyd my neve as weel as ony of my kyn, but, be equite of my lawe & of myn offyce, I myȝte noȝt sparyn hym.”
  61. Caesarius of Heisterbach, Dialogus Miraculorum, ed. Joseph Strange, 2 vols. (Cologne: H. Lempertz & Co., 1851). Quoted from the ThEMA Website,, “illum non occidisse ex aliquo rancore sive motu irae, sed solummodo ex Dei timore, zeloque iustitiae.”
  62. Boquet and Nagy, Medieval Sensibilities, 171.
  63. note for future work: the “moral monstrosity” of Griselda {Boccaccio / Petrarch / Chaucer) will be key, as she is, arguably, meant to illustrate the perfect philosopher, but perhaps perversely, given the habitual misogyny of most philosophy