The Beast Within: Animals in the Middle Ages, Joyce E. Salisbury

10098747A disappointment. Clearly the Second Edition of Salisbury’s oft-cited book witnesses to the still rising interest in animals in critical theory and social history. It’s a fine thing for this book to be available in paperback for those instructors who might want to build a syllabus around it. It’s not a fine thing, however, to claim a full revision (x) when it seems no such thing has been done. Some scholarship written in the 16 years since the appearance of the first edition crops up in the bibliography: several pieces by Erica Fudge, Claudine Fabre-Vassas, David Salter, Hanawalt and Kiser’s anthology, and a little bit of Susan Crane. Not that this matters, because most of this new work makes no appearance in Salisbury’s ‘revised’ book. I miss references to Jeffrey Cohen’s ‘Inventing With Animals,’ Crane’s ‘For the Birds,’ and especially to yours truly: we just don’t exist for her. Mistakes in the first edition have not been corrected: Caroline Walker Bynum is sometimes spelled “Carolyn” (136, 138, 140) (an error corrected, in pencil, in Bynum’s own hand in the copy in Columbia’s library: have a look!) and Ratramnus of Corbie remains a “thirteenth-century” writer; worse, her thesis–though challenged by David Salter inter alia–of changing perceptions of animals from the early to later Middle Ages remains. The persistence of Salisbury’s thesis would be fine if she hadn’t just ignored her critics.

New material includes expanded considerations on animal trials (which cites neither Jody Enders nor Michel Pastoureau nor the classical prehistory), on pets, monsters, anthropophagy, and werewolves in particular. This version has the same advantages as the first: a wealth of references to primary sources and a willingness to treat animals as animals rather than as only symbols; however it has the same problems, which is a continued humanism (mollified by references to the “beast within”) uninformed by the questions of critical theory or the subtlety of literary criticism. This should be on hand in any library as a reference, but it’s at best a starting place, and one to be used cautiously

Advertisements