Animals and the Resurrection

paradiseIn my conference paper on meat and the resurrection, I quickly treated the question of animal resurrection in mainstream Christian doctrine: the answer? They don’t. Since then, I’ve been caught in a kind of research loop….

In between bouts of teaching and grading and committee-meeting [but, happy to say, not job-hunting: I hereby offer my support and encouragement to any of our readers interviewing at the MLA in a couple of weeks. All best!], my blog post-cum-book section swelled up into what could have been 3,000+ words: more an accidental conference paper than food for the blog. I realized I needed to limit myself, in part out of consideration for your time, but also to rein in this material. Even so, it’s probably too long for the blog. My apologies.

In Genesis 1:31, having finished his work, God gives his creation one last approving look. According to J. Edward Wright, this look inspired “a longing to return to this ‘very good’ mythical place, the place where humans existed before evil, pain, and suffering were introduced into our existence” (189); hence, as Wright suggests, the popularity of the conception of heaven as a garden. Yet something is missing: the renewed creation can scarcely be called a “garden.” Where are the animals? Where are the plants? They might be saved, but nowhere does Wright indicate that animals or plants ever found a place in heaven. I do not mean to single out Wright: his work, otherwise excellent, is typical of celestial studies in his non-acknowledgment of animal or other worldly nonhuman life (e.g., Peter Toon, Heaven and Hell: A Biblical and Theological Overview; Clifford Davidson, ed.,The Iconography of Heaven; Jan Swango Emerson and Hugh Feiss, eds, Imagining Heaven in the Middle Ages; Colleen McDannell and Bernhard Lang, Heaven: A History; Carolyn Muessig and Ad Putter, eds, Envisaging Heaven in the Middle Ages).

But regardless of what Aquinas might say (see here and, for the Latin, here), regardless of the gaps in celestial studies more generally, plants and animals do sometimes appear in the future paradise. Verdant, bucolic heavens appear as early as 2 Enoch 8:1-3 and, in more mainstream works, in Jeremiah 31:12 and Isaiah 11:6-9 and 65:25 and in Revelations 22:2, which finds a place for the tree of life in the Eternal City. The twelfth-century De contemptu mundi of Bernard of Cluny pictures a heaven in which the saints will “stroll and dance amidst holy lilies and blooming flowerbuds” (21); the Elucidarium pictures a world freed of the postlapsarian curse, in which “odoriferis floribus, liliis, rosis, violis immarcessibiliter” (PL 171:1168D; unfading, sweet-smelling flowers—lilies, roses, violets) bloom in a world without thorns; and Pearl famously imagines the afterlife as a garden thronged with the souls of the saved. There’s also this painting, which, if you’re feeling generous, can stand in for any number of sylvan depictions of paradise.

Giovanni di Paolo’s painting takes the floral luxury of the Elucidarium one step further by granting animals a place in paradise. They find a place, too, in Savonarola’s Compendium of Revelations, where “mild animals, like white sheep, ermines, rabbits, and harmless creatures” frolic in a meadow, although Savonarola effaces their animal existence by glossing them as representing “Christians engaged in the active life.” However, in a much earlier work, Irenaeus’s Against Heresies 5.33.4, actual animals resurrect to live again as they did in Eden:

the resurrection of the just [shall also apply] to those animals mentioned. For God is rich in all things. And it is right that when the creation is restored, all the animals should obey and be in subjection to man, and revert to the food originally given by God (for they had been originally subjected in obedience to Adam), that is, the productions of the earth. But some other occasion, and not the present, is [to be sought] for showing that the lion shall [then] feed on straw. And this indicates the large size and rich quality of the fruits. For if that animal, the lion, feeds upon straw [at that period], of what a quality must the wheat itself be whose straw shall serve as suitable food for lions?

To the best of my current knowledge, Irenaeus’s point here had little effect on medieval Christianity. Various apocryphal stories (discussed ably by Christopher R. Matthews in this anthology) were as uninfluential: in a version of the story of Androcles and the lion, the apostle Paul is saved in the arena by a lion he once baptized (Jerome, who himself records talking centaurs and all manner of pious animals, sniffed at the story: what nerve!); in the Acts of Philip, Philip and his entourage baptize a goat and a leopard, both of which eventually transform into humans in order to receive the Eucharist and thus, presumably, become suited for the resurrection. As stillborn as were these stories, tantalizing evidence of hope for animal life occasionally appears in later texts. Students of Middle English will remember the church founded at the end of Bevis of Hampton to pray for the souls of Bevis, his wife Josian, “And also for Arondel, / Yif men for eni hors bidde schel” (4616-7). In Les Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles (in a version of a tale also told by Rutebeuf), a poor village priest buries his beloved dog in a churchyard (and manages to dodge the avarice of his bishop by convincing him that the dog had set aside a fund for its own burial).

Yet the mainstream exegetical reaction to Romans 8:19-23 is telling. Paul writes:

For the expectation of the creature waiteth for the revelation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him that made it subject, in hope: Because the creature also itself shall be delivered from the servitude of corruption, into the liberty of the glory of the children of God. For we know that every creature groaneth and travaileth in pain, even till now. And not only it, but ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption of the sons of God, the redemption of our body.

Paul is otherwise scornful of animal life (see 1 Corinthians 9:9-10). But here, if “the creature” that groaningly awaits delivery from “corruption” into another more perfect existence is understood as distinct from the “ourselves” and “we” awaiting the “redemption of the body,” then Paul is suggesting that nonhuman life will resurrect. The possibility, only a possibility because of Paul’s typically obscure prose, becomes glaringly apparent in the reactions of medieval exegesis. Rabanus Maurus feels compelled to assert that “creaturam, ut pote rationabilem, habere exspectationem quamdam” (PL 111:1454C; “the creature,” insofar as it is rational, has this expectation). A late antique commentary on the Epistles (ascribed by the PL to Jerome but likely by Pelagius) explains that Paul’s promise of redemption could apply only to humans and then reemphasizes the proper dominance of humans over the worldly creation: “Exspectatio creaturae, de rationi creatura sermonem fecit, et non sicut quidam existimant, de irrationali, vel insensibili, quae ad servitutem hominum creata est” (PL 30: 683A; “The expectation of the creature”: he said this about a rational creature, and not as some think, about an unreasoning creature, or an insensible one, which was made to serve man). Augustine’s exegesis in the Refutation of the Priscillianists and Origenists and in question sixty-seven of the Miscellany of Eight-Three Questions proved to be the foundational approach to the verses (see the commentaries by Lanfranc, PL 150:132A-B; Hervé de Bourg-Dieu, PL 181: 710D-11C; Hugh of St. Victor, PL 175:481D; William of St.-Thierry, PL 180:634D-635A; and Peter Lombard, PL 191:1442B-1444C). Countering the purportedly Origenist notion that the stars and other celestial bodies might resurrect, Augustine argued that Paul referred only to humans. As he explained, all creation may be understood as present in humans, since humans are a microcosm: they are rational, like angels; they can sense, like animals; they have life, like trees, which, like our hair, can grow without being aware of its own growth. Moreover, the four elements are present in humans: they are made from earth, heat is required for bodily life and “light shines forth from our eyes”; the lungs are filled with air; and the flow of blood is evidence of the presence of moisture. Haymo of Auxerre (in a commentary the PL ascribes mistakenly to Haymo of Halberstadt) directly asserts what is only hinted at by other exegetes, namely, the gross error of any reading of the passage that “comprehenderit…bestias” (PL 117:432B,; understood it as being about beasts) rather than as about men, who can stand in for all creation. For, in Haymo’s citation of Gregory the Great wrote, humans “esse cum lapidibus, vivere cum arboribus, sentire et [0432D] vivere cum animalibus; intelligere, id est rationabilitatem habere, cum angelis” (PL 117:432D; have being as do stones, live as do trees, sense and live as do animals, understand, that is, have reason, as do angels).

To sum up: the most doctrinally orthodox Christianity reserved the afterlife for rational beings only: humans, God, and angels. Only animals and other worldly nonhuman life, as I have argued elsewhere, could be said to die; humans suffered, at worst, an interruption. Nonetheless, we can still glimpse witnesses to the love of humans for at least individual animals; in a point I hope to talk about further, we can also witness the difficulty of imagining human life unworlded. The gardens of paradise, I think, are not just returns to Eden; they are not just fantasies of an elite in love with their own Springtime. Ralph Acampora has argued that the primacy of being “always already caught up in the experience of being a live body thoroughly involved in a plethora of ecological and social interrelationships with other living bodies and people” (5). It requires a vigorous effort, the effort of high, professional doctrine, to sustain the imagination of a future in which humans exist as themselves, with their God and with the angels and with each other, but without anything else; it requires an effort as vigorous as any effort, Cartesian or otherwise, of “dissociation and nonaffiliation” (5) with the world. Failures of that effort, or what might better be called refusals to unrecognize being a worlded (human) creature, can be witnessed in those visions of paradise that are worlds, like this one, but better, of humans and plants and animals and rocks and wind and the smell of flowers, all with each other. To fail the philosophical project of Aquinas and others is, as Acampora might write, to sustain oneself in the hope of the presently existing paradise that we could make paradise if only we knew our place in it.

The Return of the Pig?

I’m told that I’ve been away for too long. What brought me back, today, and I hope again and again, is a dispensation sealed with a promise. Various people, bless their hearts, wanted to bi- or even tri-localize at SEMA Saturday morning, and I convinced them to leave my panel alone by promising to load down the blog with my conference paper. ITM wouldn’t suffer too much, after all, since chunks of what I gave at SEMA I’ve done in some version before.

But, my friends, by missing my paper, you also missed a very alimentary journey from eating to digestion to excretion to more excretion (yes, twice, for what is shit but excess?): Fabienne Michelet on the OE Andreas, a favorite poem around these parts; Michael Johnson, on a chain of shitty asses in Provençal lyric; and Susan Morrison, Charlotte Allen’s bête noire, who, in granting us a glimpse of her fecopoetics, refused play the hoarder (a favorite piece from her paper: the 15th-century travel guide that describes the habitus of the committed shipboard shitter in a bit too much detail: remember how the reluctance to pray is overcome by habitual kneeling? How habitual kneeling itself makes prayer sincere? Now imagine unbuckling your cloak, 3 times a day, to trick your Jerusalem-bound bowels into sliding past their ironic refusal to engage).

Away from St. Louis, having given your Saturday morning to other pleasures, weep for your loss, charissimi, if you can, but not so hard you can’t track what follows. Pour yourself a cup of tea, put up your fuzzy slippers, and read on.

The earthly material out of which men’s mortal bodies are created never perishes; but though it may crumble into dust and ashes, or be dissolved into vapors and exhalations, though it may be transformed into the substance of other bodies, or dispersed into the elements, though it should become food for beasts or men, and be changed into their flesh, it returns in a moment of time to that human soul which animated it at the first, and which caused it to become man, and to live and grow.

This argument for the persistence and return of the human body, taken from Augustine’s Enchiridion, might have been drawn from any medieval explanation of Christian resurrection doctrine. The doctrine was well suited for alleviating concerns over catastrophic change and the total disappearance of the body. Shipwrecks and anthropophagous animals, deaths in the arena or at the stake, putrefaction, dessication, and dispersal: none of this actually destroyed the body. There could be nothing simpler than coping with catastrophic destruction, but life itself proved an almost insoluble problem. During their life, humans grew, and eating, digestion, and assimilation—apparently—caused this growth. Life means change. If the human body changed as a result of things it consumed, what could be identified as the original body? What if the inhuman substance of food supplanted rather than merely supplemented the resurrectable human body? What if, as Peter Lombard wondered (see Bynum Resurrection 124), eating and digestion gradually transformed human bodies into bread or roast pig? What of the human would remain?

Peter Lombard’s anxiety about bread is unusual. Typically, resurrection doctrine focused on the problem of meat. Another twelfth-century theologian, Master Martin, offered the argument that the

meats of animals and fish that are fit for the table of humans turn into the flesh of the eater. All the flesh of humans will resurrect, therefore the flesh of these animals, having been made human, will resurrect. Also, the flesh of humans crosses over into the flesh of a wolf [that has eaten humans] and thus the flesh of the wolf will resurrect since the flesh of humans, which has crossed over into the wolf, will resurrect.

Similarly, Gilbert of Poitiers argued that if what humans ate turns into human flesh, then “pig flesh would resurrect”; and an anonymous twelfth-century Summa wondered whether “man, in eating beast flesh, turns it into his own flesh and that conversely a beast eating human flesh turns it into its own flesh, and thus the flesh of a beast having been converted into human flesh or having been made human will resurrect” (see Richard Heinzmann, Die Unsterblichkeit der Seele und die Auferstehung des Leibes 211). These questions all implied the possibility of a paradise thronged with human-animal hybrids. In a sense this was a best case scenario, as the “chain consumption” problem suggested that some unfortunate humans might not be able to resurrect at all. In a typical chain consumption scenario—such as that found in Julian of Toledo’s seventh-century Prognosticon or its thirteenth-century Anglo-Norman translation—a wolf kills and eats a man, and then a lion kills and eats the wolf, and then dies shortly afterwards. I’ll quote from the translation: “The carcass lay on the ground and entirely rotted and turned to earth: where could the man be found in here? Know, indeed, that I do not believe at all that this man could be recuperated from death into life, because the earth that was the man cannot be divided from that which became the beasts’!”

Resurrection doctrine focused particularly on animal flesh because of the essential role played by the resurrection in distinguishing human from merely animal life. The Christian tradition almost universally asserted that the afterlife would be without plants and animals. Irenaeus’s Against Heresies argues that immortal, resurrected humans would spend eternity with animals—including straw-eating, vegetarian lions; there is also the common medieval story about Judas’s rooster [e.g., Cursor Mundi, Horrall ed., III.15985-93], which springs back to life to mock Judas’s declaration that Jesus could no more resurrect than the rooster in his pot; but, to the best of my knowledge, Irenaeus’s conception of heaven as an exact restoration of the Edenic paradise did not take root in medieval Christianity, and Judas’s rooster, after all, was presumably resurrected only to end its existence, once again, in the soup. The main literary tradition on the resurrection, The Fifteen Signs of the Last Judgment, shows humans entering into eternity and animals, if it acknowledges them at all, as only mourning as their complete destruction approaches. Christian scholars generally insisted that the souls of animals did not outlast animal life. And Aquinas explained that since “in that final renewal of the universe…the body will rise not natural but spiritual…animals and plants will…cease to exist then.” Both humans and animals had bodies that were born, that grew and ate, and that underwent pain and putrefaction, but resurrection did away with these resemblances by breaking human life entirely from any shared bodily existence with animals. Furthermore, since humans would resurrect, only animals could really die; humans experienced what might better be called a temporary setback, or a preparatory stage for a more perfect existence. Resurrection would fail as an ultimate guarantee of difference, however, if the doctrinal worries about digestion proved justified. If animals that were eaten by or ate humans could enter into eternal life, if humans might enter eternal life as hybrid human-animals, and if humans eaten by animals might, through digestion, become animal flesh and thus be unable to resurrect, then to quote once more the question from the Dialogue of St. Julian, “where could the man be found in here?” With every bite, the human would gradually meld with the animal and be given over to death.

There is at least one additional complication to the utility of the resurrection for separating humans from animals: the resurrection is the promised, eternal demonstration of the distinction between humans and animals, while the worldly, present-day guarantee of difference is the human subjugation of animals. In a process that Derrida termed carnophallogocentrism, humans establish themselves retroactively, through this subjugation, as uniquely possessing “speech or reason, the logos, history, laughing, mourning, burial, the gift, and so on”: had Derrida extended his analysis to the Christian Middle Ages, his “and so on” would have included the immortal soul. The human consumption of animal flesh is the central act of domination by which animal life is denigrated and human life exalted and thereby created as human life. In this system, no human can be slaughtered and eaten, at least not legitimately, whereas no form of Christianity could deny the legitimacy of eating animals without incurring the suspicion of heresy. A human death might be murder, but an animal death at the most would be only a property crime. With a few notable exceptions, any claim that an animal might possess more than merely instrumental life was self-evidently absurd: this explains, in part, the humor of the Testamentum porcelli and the Stultus Stultorum, and the scorn of the Apostle Paul and Guibert of Nogent for the Deuteronomic verses that call for kindness towards animals.

If the human establishes itself as human by dominating animals, then, in another instance of the key insight of any number of postmodern philosophies, there is no essential human identity; there is only a fundamental conflict. The human is both a structural position and an ongoing event that seeks to produce both the human and the animal by elevating one and denigrating the other. It might be expected that this conflict could end once humans resurrected into an afterlife populated only by God, angels—or demons—and by other humans, where humans will have assumed their perfected bodies, freed from all flux. By passing through death, humans finally realize their distinction from nonhuman earthly life, and, in an afterlife lacking any lifeforms that can be dominated, they should be freed from the necessity of conflict. This peaceful end might be understood as the point when the human at long last comes into its own. But if the meat-eating by which the human struggles to be human contaminates the human body, if the pork we eat resurrects with us, then that struggle will be marked on the human body for eternity. Rather than finally arriving at an identity, the human will permanently display a corporeal reminder of its systemic antagonism; rather than transcending flux, flux would be fixed in the human forever. The truth of human nature—its contingency, its inessential relationality—will be irrepressible.

Christian thinkers countered this truth of human nature by proposing another truth. Only what belonged to what they called the veritas humanae naturae, “the truth of our human nature” would resurrect. In effect, this clarification set aside a portion of the human body as essentially human, rendering the rest of the body a kind of inhuman supplement unfit for resurrection, associated rather than joined with the truth of body. Philip Lydon Reynolds’s Food and the Body: Some Peculiar Questions in High Medieval Theology tracks the doctrinal debates over whether food could contribute to the truth of human nature. Theologians like Peter Lombard and Master Martin answered no. Proof texts for this position included God’s creation of Eve from Adam’s rib, the feeding of the 5,000 from the 5 loaves, the resurrection of infants into adult bodies, and Matthew 15:17, “Do you not understand, that whatsoever entereth into the mouth, goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the privy?” Thus, the human would be preserved from its own eating; pig flesh, as Gilbert of Poitiers wrote, would not resurrect [“Die Sententie Magistri Gisleberti Pictavensis Episcopi (II). Die Version der Florentiner Handschrift.” Archives d’histoire doctrinale et littéraire du moyen âge (AHDLMA) 46 (1979): 45-105]. While this solution required that human growth take place miraculously rather than naturally, while it cut off the human from any alimentary interaction with the world, it had the advantage of simplicity on other points: nothing essential in the human body was subject to change.

Later theologians promoted a naturalistic explanation for human growth. The aforementioned anonymous twelfth-century Summa, which, after wondering whether animals might resurrect, provides several options, the first two miraculous, and the latter at least tending towards a naturalistic explanation of growth:

Neither human flesh turns into that of a wild beast or the other way around, but…one nourishes the other and makes it grow . . . Or, if it is allowed that one is converted into another, it is not however converted into the truth of human nature or the other way around. Or, however, if they are converted the Lord will know one from another and in the resurrection will separate them.

Another anonymous treatise, De novissimus, argues that pork eaten by people

is not pork but is transformed into human substance to be resurrected, and so will not be unsuitable, just as the mud of the earth is not simply mud, but, having been transfigured into the human form, will arise with Adam. [Edited in Odon Lottin, Psychologie et morale aux XIIe et XIIIe siècles, 6 vols. (Louvain,: Abbaye du Mont César, 1942), Vol. V, 396.]

Chain consumption arguments, like that in the Prognosticon, always ended by asserting that God would sort things out. The Elucidarium explains:

What was the flesh of the man will resurrect; what is of beasts will stay behind. For He knows well how to separate these, who knew how to make everything from nothing. Therefore, whether they are devoured limb by limb by beasts or by fishes or by birds, all will be reformed in the resurrection so much so that not one of their hairs will perish.

Finally, Aquinas, like De novissimus, asserts that “although that part of matter which at one time was under the form of bovine flesh rises again in man under the form of human flesh, it does not follow that the flesh of an ox rises again, but the flesh of a man: else one might conclude that the clay from which Adam’s body was fashioned shall rise again.”

The double argument that food contributed to human growth and that only the human body could resurrect granted humans a monopoly on constructive earthly violence. Animals’ own meat-eating could have no long-term effect: animal flesh consumed by other animals might assimilate to the carnivore’s body, or it might pass out of its body, but both eater and eaten were destined for the same end to which all nonhuman animals were subject. Human flesh consumed by animals might become part of their bodies, for a time, but God will separate human from animal flesh for the resurrection, so ordering animals and humans into their own proper destinies.

Barring the cannibal consumption of unensouled fetuses—which I won’t get into today—the violence of the human consumption of animals is the only violence that might transform flesh into a substance fit for the Eternal City. No pig or cow could become immortal, but by suffering the violence of humans, either might contribute to an immortal substance. What could be put to use would be, and the rest would be discarded. The life of an animal was only a means, never an end.

Yet even while belittling animals, theologians nonetheless commemorated animal life and death, as the peculiar attention to meat in these debates itself attests to the value of animal life. It is that moment prior to the final belittlement, the moment the life of the pig enters the theologian’s consciousness, the moment prior to the declaration that the pig will not resurrect, the moment before the theologian announces that God cannot think the life of a pig worth preserving, on which I want to linger as I continue to think about these matters.

WOOFING AND WEEPING: The State of Research, or No One Knows But God

437704271_75e20c18caIn much of his late work, Jacques Derrida characterized the question of the animal as “not one question among others” but the question that “represents the limit upon which all the great question are formed and determined, as well as all the concepts that attempt to delimit what is ‘proper to man,’ the essence and future of humanity, ethics, politics, law, ‘human rights,’ ‘crimes against humanity. ‘genocide,’ etc.” The humanism that utterly divides humans from animals is a legacy of the Christian Middle Ages; consequently, the Middle Ages is an ideal site for exploring the development of the modern concept of the human. It is also, however, a place in which other possibilities for human/animal relationship might be discovered. When and where is anthropocentrism suspended? Such moments might be discovered in hunting practices, chivalry, various literary texts–Chaucer’s Squire’s Tale, Chrétien de Troyes’ Yvain, traditions of the “hairy saint”–and medieval theology and philosophy (from either Christian or non-Christian traditions), all of which might productively be used to think through, for example, the phenomenological ethics of Ralph Acampora, the assemblages of humans, animals, and objects in Deleuze and Guattari, and even perhaps the responsibility promoted by Levinas, despite his indifference to the question of animals.

On with the show! Several weeks ago, I discussed stumbling upon the weeping of animals in Ava’s version of the 15 Signs of the Last Judgment. In response to Eileen’s request that I clarify my interest in this scene, I wrote (slightly edited):

Given the profound anthropocentricism of sacred history–since however much God or Creation matters, God and Creation matter only insofar as they serve humankind–any acknowledgment of other lives is always in excess of what is required. Animal life should not rate; after all, they have no share in the afterlife, there’s no friendship possible with them, they can be the recipient of only indirect duties, &c. I think here of Heidegger’s conviction that animals, in their total captivation in their world and thus their total inability to relate to the future, can only “perish,” that they cannot die [since writing this, I’ve discovered some roots of Heidegarrian animal thinking in Schopenhauer, who wrote “indeed the brutes do not properly speaking feel death” and “between the brute and the external world there is nothing, but between us and the external world there is always our thought about it”]

Yet in Ava we have several stanzas concerned solely with disruptions to animal life. We can conceive of these stages of the 15 signs as a systematic undoing of creation (hence the fish first, then fowl, then beasts of the field), and hence as moving in a trajectory towards the human. Nevertheless, Ava–and I hope not only Ava–marks the suffering of animals as a particular suffering in creation. It’s not simply that the mountains are falling, the seas turning to blood, freshwater is turning bitter, and all the other business from John’s Apocalypse.

Instead, in excess of what is strictly necessary for her project, which nowhere else pays much attention to animals, Ava acknowledges the lives and deaths and passions of animals. And she acknowledges the relations of animals with each other. Her acknowledgment does not redeem animals, but I’d say that the fact that animals cannot be redeemed increases the interest. We might say that we see zoē–mere life–and “animal sacer” given what they should lack: a voice, a sadness, rage, a death that matters, even at the very moment when their deaths, in a sense, matter least of all (since they’re not being sacrificed anymore to human appetite or instrumentality). And we might say that this is not “given” but is rather revealed. At the very moment humans pass into redemption, at the very moment when their lives are marked for eternity as the only lives that ‘really matter,’ we see–maybe!–the catastrophe of human indifference to animal life. Sacrificed life, a life only as means, speaks and reveals itself as what it was all along, as life, as an end in itself, but only at the moment of its destruction. This is the one moment, the only moment, when animal life is for itself.

To this I’ll add that we see a grief that cannot be sacrificed. Whatever the fear of humans during the last 15 days, their fear will be exchanged for something, whether heaven or hell; but whatever the fear–or love, in fact–of animals, they ultimately get nothing for it. Certainly the fear of animals has been put on display for humans, since, insofar as it astonishes humans, since insofar as it’s being expressed in a particular genre with a particular purpose, it is being sacrificed to the generation of proper human piety; but this is not all there is. My argument–and this, I hope, begins to answer Nicola’s complicated comment on the previous post–may include: a) that animals are shown to experience more fully than humans the injustice of the end of hope and dread; b) that animals do in fact get closer than humans to the Great Impossibility, namely, the experience of their own deaths, since, after all, humans, even in dying, leap over their own deaths into eternal life.

I knew that the fifteen signs were a medieval Christian commonplace, but I was also nervous that Ava’s attention to animals would be the only place animals received any notice. Time spent with William W. Heist’s The Fifteen Signs before Doomsday (Michigan State College Press, 1952) and in the meagerness of Brooklyn College’s library (would whoever moved The Prick of Conscience please put it back where it belongs?) dispersed all my worries. Here’s some of what I discovered:

  • Heist argues that the Irish Saltair na Rann is the most important source for the transmission of the 15 signs: there are a few references to animals in it, but as I can’t even fake Old Irish, and since Heist offers his translation as provisional, I’m just marking this wellspring and moving on;
  • the pseudo-Bede, from the PL (provided in Heist, with a translation): “Quarta die pisces et omnes belluae marinae, et congregabuntur super aquas, et dabunt voces et gemitus, quarum significationem nemo scit nisi Deus.” “On the fourth day the fishes and all the sea monsters will both gather together upon the waters and give forth voices and groans, whose meaning no one knows but God.” (25);
  • Peter Damian’s De novissimis et Antichristo (warning: PDF): “The sign of the fourth day: all the monsters and all things that live in the water of the sea will be gathered together upon the sea, roaring and bellowing back and forth as though in contest; and men will not know what they are singing or what they are thinking, but only God will know, by whom all live that His purpose may be fulfilled. These four signs are of the sea, and the next three signs are of the air and ether. The sign of the fifth day: flying creatures of all heaven will assemble in the fields, every kind in its order; these birds will be speaking and weeping together, fearing the coming of the Judge…The sign of the ninth day: all the stones, both small and great, will be split into four parts, and each part will strike the other part, and no man will understand that sound, but only God [this included in the quotation because I thought it might interest Jeffrey]….The sign of the twelfth day: all the beasts of the earth will come from the woods and mountains to the fields roaring and bellowing, not eating and not drinking” (Heist trans, 28).

As I expected, the 15 signs appear frequently in Middle English, and the four or five references that I’ve examined so far tend to include references to animals. Two examples. In the “Quindecim Signa ante diem Judicii” (ed. in Furnivall, Hymns to the Virgin and Christ EETS OS 23, 118-25) all creation cries out:

“The ix day, wondyr hytt ys,
As the prophecy tellyth hytt I wys:
Thatt all þynge schall speke þan,
And cry in erthe aftyr þe steuyn off man,
And be-mone hem self in owr sy3th
Ryth as þey speke myth” (ll. 100-105)

To forestall any memory work by medieval drama specialists: I did find the reference in the Chester “Antichrist’s Prophets,” where one of the Expositor’s several references to animals runs “All manner of beastes shall rore and crye / and neyther eate nor drynke” (ll. 321-4)

Now, if you’re still with me, I want to point out that animals are not the only grieving elements of creation. In an Anglo-Norman version, “the stars fall from heaven and run about the earth like lightning; they shed tears and run under the mountain; they turn black and plunge into the abyss….the moon turns to blood, descends, and tries to run into the sea….all the rivers speak and cry to God for mercy” (28-29, Heist’s summary: I haven’t examined the original yet). However, my research so far suggests that crying stars and pleading rivers are less common compared to crying and pleading animals. Surely it’s easier to imagine an animal crying than a star; and most traditions of the 15 Signs do not include weeping stars, which surely matters in an eschatological tradition whose content remained–remarkably?–stable throughout its life. I’m justified, then, in concentrating on animals, but, at the same time, I thought some of our posthuman ITMers might want to know about the stars, just as they might want to know about the “battling rocks” (debellabunt petrae adinvicem) of pseudo-Bede.

We’ll see where this takes me! Hopefully to Kzoo 2009. Suggestions and comments are, of course, encouraged.

(creative common image from here, from flickr user ChinchillaVilla)


Nicola, first, thanks for the reminder about Lippit. On its face, I’m inclined to say that the animals are not experiencing/shown to be experiencing a suspension of temporality (although I’d have to review Lippit’s argument to know if I’m mangling his thought or not). Rather, I’d say they’re, as they do so often, experiencing the deaths that humans, at least in mainstream medieval Christian doctrine (hereafter MMCD), never do. Only animals experience–or suffer–the complete breakdown of the body, only they have–if this can be called a ‘having’–the sheer vulnerability of life that cannot be exchanged for anything else (including memories, since, after all, who remembers–who memorializes–slaughtered pigs? This gets at my SEMA paper). Can we say that time is being suspended in any way in this moment? I’m not sure, so I’d love to hear more from you on this point. For now, I’m inclined to think that the future ends, and with it, time itself. That complete end marks it, I think, as something other than a suspension. MMCD splits the import of that terminus in two: the end of the future as the end of world and hence the end of self belongs–with the proviso about ‘having’ marked again–only to animals, whereas the end of future as the end of the threat of the future (that is, that time and our names will persist without us) belongs only to humans.

Jeffrey, thanks as well (and THANKS to Letty and Nic too!). I’ve finally ordered the Valerie Allen book, and I suppose I should read all of the Exemplaria medieval noise cluster. You now have me wondering how much I should make of the distinction between versions of the 15 signs that reference God’s singular knowledge of the meaning and those that leave out even that comfort of resolvability. As I said above, it’s a very traditional genre, which means, I think, that I should assume minimal PURPOSE to any individual variation–it’s much safer, I think, to assign the differences to happenstance transmission issues rather than individual/institutional/cultural (wherever we draw our lines) deliberation. Now, do we call this “god only knows” a “comfort”–it CAN be interpreted–or an anxious marking of the ungraspability of meaning: God, after all, isn’t going to tell anyone what the sounds mean. He hears their grief, their wailing, and still destroys them. This approach is on my mind because I was listening to the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows,” which–surprisingly–captures some of the melancholy, uncertain eschatology and deathsense that I’m seeing in the animals of this tradition:

I may not always love you
But long as there are stars above you
You never need to doubt it
I’ll make you so sure about it

God only knows what I’d be without you

If you should ever leave me
Though life would still go on believe me
The world could show nothing to me
So what good would living do me?

God only knows what I’d be without you

Lettty, thanks very much for that reference. The getacniað troubles me, however. I normally go out of my way to avoid animal allegory: my preference has been for creatures like the Donestre, who–for what reason?–mourn over the bodies of the people they kill, just as the harpies do in The Branches of the Appletree (ed. in The Tretyse of Love, J. H. Fischer, EETS OS 223):

“Vpon this braunche [compunction] makith hir neest a byrde whiche is callid harpia, that hath the semblaunce of a mannes visage, & hir nature is to slee the fyrst man she fyndeth, & thenne gooth she to some water where she beholdeth hirself & seeth that she hath slayn hir owne liknes, & thenne makyth she a full grete sorowe alwaye that euer she sawe ony man. This signefyeth þe soule that slew cryst by hir synne, whose semblaunce is in hir, for to his semblaunce was she created” (113).

I love this UNTIL we get to the “signefyeth.”

But responding to your comment has forced me to rethink some of this. The “signefyeth,” “getacniað,” “significavit” shuts things down, but rather than focus on that moment, I should focus instead–as I’ve been doing in my 15 signs thinking–on why animals included at all. In part this is a ‘why are animals good to think with’ question, and the answer to that is, in part, Jeffrey’s observations (in On Difficult Middles and in his essay in the Engaging with Nature anthology) about animals as apt sites of fantasy, as places to dream other lives. So, in part I want to mark, with you Letty, that Aelfric knows these birds mourn, and then to wonder why Aelfric should be interested in this.

Similarly, Nic, THANK you. I’ve largely avoided the Gowther because of its allegory. But you’ve suggested a useful way to come at things, and, no, I’ve NEVER thought of the 15 signs connection to it: right now, I’m inclined to think it’s tenuous, but, who knows? I’ll have another look.

– See more at:

Woofing and Weeping with Animals in Ava’s Das Jüngste Gericht

2466112830_8f6510d3e1_bWhen in medieval intellectual befunkitude, I try to open myself to the unknown in the hopes that I’ll be surprised. German works might be the best for this, since, if you’re anything like me, you know more about Latin than you do French literatures, and more about French than you do Italian or Spanish literatures: but you know next to nothing about anything else. German, in translation or not (and it’s very much in translation for me!), tends to be a backwater unless we’re tracking Eric, Percival, Tristan, and other favorite romance heroes. Too bad! I can highly recommend Duke Ernst, Ortnit, Wolfdietrich, the Munich Oswald, and, now, perhaps less enthusiastically, the sacred histories of Ava.

Translator James A. Rushing, jr. identifies Ava as both the first named woman writer of the vernacular in the Western Middle Ages (as she probably died 1127, she predates Marie de France by several decades) and the first writer of German epic. Ava’s history of the life of John the Baptist and Jesus for the most part closely follows the pericopes of Christmas and Easter. Because so much is so familiar, my reading slid along while waiting to be snagged by 12th-century hazards. This made for a quick but not particularly interesting read.

A sampling of snags: when the three wise men (bearing “gold from Arabia”) remove their armor before honoring Christ; when Mary comports herself like an anchoress by sitting alone in her room praying for the salvation of the world; when the apostles worship Christ and Mary after Christ’s resurrection; when Ava characterizes Jesus’s triumph as a victory over “one who had robbed him of his land”; when we get a glimpse of the investiture controversy, as Jesus, we hear, “never used his divine origin to evade human law” (see also the sustained attention to the powers with which Christ invested Peter and to the socially disruptive force of excommunications, which, immediately prior to the appearance of Antichrist, drive all “the good to flee to caves in the forest”); when we encounter the Hell Mouth, which is, here, perhaps also a Purgatorial mouth (as those who enter it can be freed via confession and repentance), and also very much the mouth of a “helle hunde” (is the species of the mouth of hell elsewhere so specifically identified?); when–presumably à la mode–French appears (“chastellen” (“Life” 56.9); cf. “burge” (“Judgment” 12.3): I wish Rushing had marked the distinction in such places, as my (wholly uninformed!) sense is that the vocab of the translation is much smaller than the original); when the pileus cornutus (e.g., here) crowds the illustrations (even Joseph wears one), which leads me to wonder when this appeared East of the Rhine; and, above all, the astonishing moment of affective piety, of writing and desiring across time, when Ava laments being unable to enter her own history:

Alas, Joseph the good,
there you lifted my Lord down from the cross.
Had I lived then,
I would have clung fast to you,
at the glorious funeral
of my very dear Lord. (“Life,” 157.1-6)

I’m inclined to wonder whether Ava is a pseudonym. With Anne Middleton’s reading of Langland’s autobiography in mind (“Acts of Vagrancy: The C Version ‘Autobiography’ and the Statute of 1388″), I wonder if Ava has, through her (claimed?) name, inserted herself into salvation history by taking on something like the Marian name that reversed Eve (“Ave,” hail, revises Eve in an exegetical commonplace). The autobiographical ending claims “This book was written / by the mother of two children,” one of whom is dead and the other alive, “toil[ing] in earthly woes,” and calls upon the reader to wish mercy on the soul of the dead son, and grace for the other and “the mother, who is Ava.” It’d probably be too cute by half to call the dead son Abel and the live one Cain, as this whole paragraph is probably too cute. So let it be stricken.

I can, however, defend my interest in Ava’s version of the 15 Signs of the Last Judgment (for more on this tradition, see W. W. Heist, The Fifteen Signs before Doomsday (Michigan State College P, 1952, which is making its interlibrary way to me as of now):

On the fourth day,
then the lamentation arises,
then the fish and all the monsters of the sea
rise up from the abyss.
They fight above the sea
making a loud noise.
Then things do not go very well
for those that have fins and fish bones.On the fifth day,
then comes a greater lamentation.
Then all the fowl
that ever flew under heaven
rise up in the fields,
be they tame or wild.
They woof and weep (I presume this word, “weinent,” is the same Ava uses for Peter’s weeping at his betrayal of Christ, “do ilt er weinende danne gan” (then he hurried away, crying))
with great screaming.
They bite and scratch,
they strike one another.
The day goes very badly
for those that have wings and talons….

On the twelfth day
the beasts of the field help us lament.
When the animals go out of the forest
against the beasts of the field,
full loudly they roar
as they clash together
with loud cries,
just before the Judgment.

I hope you find Ava’s concern for animals, and her presumption of animals’ concern for us–and perhaps for their own coming destruction–as astonishing as I do. I think I’ve just found my Kzoo 2009 paper. Without too much effort, I can sense of number of practical approaches to putting this concern in motion:

  • a ‘becoming-human’ of the world, and ‘becoming-world’ of the human, in a rereading of the ‘affective fallacy’ as the world all feeling together;
  • feeling with and for animals, and vice versa, as a discovery of friendship at the ultimate point of vulnerability (here I think of various ethics of the flesh based in phenomenology and on Derrida’s proposed ethics of a ‘not being able’);
  • mourning that which should be unmournable, i.e., animal lives (and one thinks here of the applications of Butler’s-as-yet-unread-for-me Precarious Life

Tentative title for an as-yet inchoate abstract: “Woofing and Weeping: Feeling with Animals in the Last Days.” Any suggestions for an approach to this material will be very much appreciated! I’ve already looked around the house for other versions: the Golden Legend, which practially begins with the 15 signs, gives animals no love, while the 15 signs make no appearance at all in the Last Judgments of the N-Town, Chester, or York plays, nor, so far as I can (quickly) determine, Piers Plowman and perhaps not in McGinn’s Visions of the End anthology, whose index fails me only on this one point. Cheap CUNY gives me no access to the PL, so I can’t see pseudo-Bede’s 15 signs in Vol. 94. Searches of Middle English sacred history–Cursor Mundi and Prick of Conscience–are upon me.

You who are still here, what can you give me?

[picture from flickr user locket479, here, through Creative Commons]


Well, first, I hope that what’s happening here is NOT unusual, as just one instance in this tradition seems too thin to hang a reading on. I was pretty disappointed by the absence of animals from the Golden Legend, and I’m hoping that other versions of the 15 Signs (and there are probably tens if not hundreds of versions, either as independent texts or as sections of others) tend towards an acknowledgment of animals.

But what markers in the language here indicate Ava’s sympathy with/pathos over this state of affairs?

I’d say it’s (simply) the acknowledgment of animals. It’s something akin to casualty counts for the Iraq war that include only “Coalition” casualties and leave however many hundreds of thousands of Iraqis unlisted (if I can get away with this example here). Given the profoundly anthropocentric character of sacred history–since however much God or Creation matters, God and Creation matter only insofar as they serve humankind–any acknowledgment of other lives is always in excess of what is required. Animal life should not rate; after all, they have no share in the afterlife, there’s no friendship possible with them (at least in medieval moral philosophy/ethics that I know, although whether this is operable in the 1120s here, I don’t know), &c. I think here of Heidegger’s conviction that animals, in their total captivation in their world and thus their total inability to relate to the future, can only “perish,” that they cannot die.

Yet we have several stanzas concerned solely with disruptions to animal life. We can conceive of these stages of the 15 signs as a systematic undoing of creation (hence the fish first, then fowl, then beasts of the field), and hence as moving in a trajectory towards the human. Nevertheless, Ava–and I hope not only Ava–marks the suffering of animals as a particular suffering in creation. It’s not simply that the mountains are falling, the seas turning to blood, freshwater is turning bitter, and all the other business from John’s Apocalypse; nor do we see how humans respond to these days when things go so badly for fish, and so forth.

Instead, Ava acknowledges, in excess of what is strictly necessary for her project–IN a project that nowhere else pays much attention to animals–the lives and deaths and passions of animals. And she acknowledges the relations of animals WITH each other.

This acknowledgment does not redeem animals, but I’d say that the fact that animals CANNOT be redeemed increases the interest. We might say that we see zoē–mere life–and “animal sacer” given what they should lack: a voice, a sadness, rage, a death that matters, even at the very moment when their deaths matter least of all (since they’re not being sacrificed anymore to human appetite or instrumentality). And we might say that this is not “given” but is rather revealed. At the very moment humans pass into redemption, at the very moment when their lives are marked for eternity as the only lives that ‘really matter,’ we see the catastrophe of human indifference to animal life. Sacrificed life speaks and reveals itself as what it was all along, AS life, but only at the moment of its destruction.

Now, this reading–and thanks for your question, EJ, as Kzoo 2009 is coming together RAPIDLY–will work much better if/when I can GET MORE STUFF. Again, I’m hanging a LOT of reading on something very small unless I can discover that Ava is not alone in this.


Then there’s Ava’s imagining the animals helping us lament (and I can’t even GUESS at the German here: “so hilfet uns daz vihe chlagen”: I presume hilfet = help and chlagen = lament). Lord knows what’s happening there! – See more at:

Bits and pieces on anthropophagous animals

attempt2Many illustrations of the Last Judgment and Resurrection depict animals regurgitating human parts (the illustration for this post, taken from the nineteenth-century tracing of the Hortus deliciarum, is one such image). In these depictions, humans – or parts of humans – emerge only from animal mouths; they do not emerge from animal anuses, nor are they shown to be exuded or otherwise reconstituted from animal flesh. Regardless of what might have been thought to happen to human flesh during the term of the anthropophagous animal’s life, in the visual representations, humans have not passed through digestive tracks; they have not been assimilated; their flesh remains their own, promised to them for the coming Eternity. Seemingly like the en-whaled Jonah, they rest unaltered, if not wholly intact, in the belly of the beast until the Creator sees fit to undo the eating by bringing them back out the way they went in.


* * *

In the early second century, Ignatius of Antioch penned his Epistle to the Romans, a brief work in which he enthused over his coming martyrdom, eagerly hoping that the beasts of the arena would do their duty and devour him:

Suffer me to become food for the wild beasts, through whose instrumentality it will be granted me to attain to God. I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of God. Entice the wild beasts, that they may become my tomb, and may leave nothing of my body; so that when I have fallen asleep, I may not be found troublesome to any one.

This passage has been interpreted as one in which Ignatius turns his body, through martyrdom, into the Eucharist; Bynum tracks its efforts to promise continuity of self even in those moments when it seems to be in danger of utter dissolution (Resurrection 27). Ignatius pictures the “breakings, tearing . . . . separations of bones[,] . . . . cutting off of members[, and] . . . bruising to pieces of the whole body” that he will undergo. Yet Ignatius describes his final end also as something far more mundane: he is wheat turned into bread; he has, in a common image, fallen asleep; he is the body laid to rest in the tomb of these beasts. The latter image is especially arresting. He hopes that nothing will remain of him – no relic – over which any Christian might expend any care. Presumably such a hope would be vain for the arena, given that even the most ravenous — or fastidious — of beasts leave behind scraps of carrion; but it would not be a vain hope for a burial, as even the sloppiest of burials tend not to leave pieces behind. Although Ignatius will be devoured by beasts, he resists the wildness of it by imagining what is meant to be a humiliation as a banal, albeit pious, terminus of his life. He undoes the coming dispersal of his limbs into multiple animal stomachs through a metaphor that transforms these numerous temporary receptacles into a single tomb that will preserve his remains until the Last Judgment. In a manner of speaking, that burial is precisely what happened. After his martyrdom, nothing remained of him “but the harder portions of his holy remains,” which “were conveyed to Antioch and wrapped in linen, as an inestimable treasure left to the holy Church by grace which was in the martyr.” His humble request that he not be preserved in the form of relics has not been honored, but the fact of his having been killed and consumed by animals is at least counterbalanced by his osteal preservation. He has been reassembled preparatory to the coming resurrection, and until then, his remains, his self partially in abeyance, will be preserved by the church. This end and enduring postmortem existence is presumably what he would have come to even if he had not been consumed by animals: his flesh would have turned to dust, his bones kept.

BARTSCH_800050The above story is the Greek version of Ignatius’s death. Some, but not all, versions translated into Latin (beginning with the Elogium ex Martyrologiis Adonis, translated into Latin by Bede) conclude differently. A typical version of this tradition follows:

Finally, after this, that he had been tormented by fire, and by beating and prison, the emperor did send for the Romans in a place and there did do set S. Ignatius, and did do bring thither two lions for to devour him. But he had never dread for death ne for other torments, of which he had suffered many, but was always comforted for to die for the love of Jesu Christ. And he said at the last: I am wheat of Jesu Christ, which ought to be grounden between the teeth of these beasts, by which I may be pure bread for to be presented to my Lord; and anon the lions came and strangled him without tearing of his flesh, or anything hurting it (in the Latin, præfocauerunt eum tantummodo, & non tetigerunt carnes eius), wherefor Trajan had great marvel and departed from the place.

What was originally a story in which a saint triumphs over eating is eventually altogether purged of eating. It becomes one of the many stories in which large predatory animals, otherwise notoriously anthropophagous, refuse to eat saints: e.g., the story of Cerbonius, Bishop of Populonia, who, in Gregory the Great’s Dialogues, is condemned to be eaten by a bear, but the bear only licks the saint’s feet and hands, acting “with a heart almost human”; or the stories of Vincent, Gordian, Primus, Felicianus, and Justina in the Golden Legend, all of whose exposed bodies remain uneaten by animals; or, even, although this is somewhat far afield, the assertion by a fourteenth-century cynegetic manual that Acteon’s dogs, even though their master had been transformed into a stag, refused to eat him. Both versions of Ignatius’s martyrdom essentially tell the same tale of the failure of animal violence: in each, Ignatius resists being eaten and incorporated, in one by imagining his own swallowed body as a buried body, in the other by showing, even before the resurrection, the perdurability of flesh promised him for Eternity: subject to the power of God, the lions may only smother, so respecting the integrity of the sacred body. In the earlier narrative they may tear the saint to pieces, but nevertheless his relics persist. At any rate, what the lions ate would cease to be theirs once the lions passed into the nothingness of a merely animal death. Animals may be able to eat humans, digestion might join human with animal flesh, but this transformation is temporary: they cannot retain this human as their own flesh. Because the animal was temporary, and the human eternal, the devouring lions of the earlier legend might as well be the smothering lions of the Golden Legend.


Fuller cite for the Actaeon objection, by the way, is Gace de la Buigne, Roman de Déduits, “est bourde, si com je cuide, / que les chiens mengerent leur maistre” (I think it is a lie that dogs ever ate their master). This objection also appears as early as the time of Aristotle, in Palaephatus. On Unbelievable Tales Jacob Stern, trans. Wauconda, Illinois: Bolchazy-Carducci, 1996:

“They say that Actaeon was devoured by his own dogs. But the story is false, for a dog is most affectionate toward its master and provider, and hunting dogs in particular fawn on everyone” (38).

This book also has the following marvelous (or disenchantifantastic) passage:

“What is said about the Centaurs is that they were beasts with the overall shape of a horse — except for the head, which was human. But even if there are some people who believe that such a horse once existed, it is impossible. Horse and human natures are not compatible, nor are their foods the same: what a horse eats could not pass through the mouth and throat of a man. And if there ever was such a shape, it would also exist today” (30). –

…of course, the less interesting, but perhaps more accurate explanation, for the ‘human bits from animal mouths’ bit is that the animal mouth is a variant of the Hell Mouth, and Resurrection of the Flesh is conceived as a kind of Harrowing…

At any rate, that’s the kind of CYA I think I’d have to do were I ever to assemble some of the above things into an actual publication. –

Per Augustine: they may have been fully digested, but they’re nevertheless shown coming out the way they came in. It’s the exact reversal that interests me, a reversal despite the fact that many theologians knew–not the best verb, here, I know–perfectly well that the flesh of humans eaten by animals would be assimilated into animal flesh. In other words, I’m interested in the fact that what should be understood as a reconstitution is instead portrayed as an undoing, since the undoing strikes me as somewhat less miraculous. There seems to be a failure to imagine in visual form the very imaginative/doctrinal construct so necessary to the conviction of the lived and postmortem and coming Eternal permanence of self, as if the illustrators could not imagine how human flesh, mingled with, assimilated to, whatever, with animal flesh, could emerge, not from the mouth, but from the alien flesh that had become, in a (horrific) way, its own.

Per Ignatius: My notes on this, from the Acta Sanctorum, has the following instances in which Ignatius gets torn to pieces and devoured by the lions:

Simon Metaphraste:
dimissi leones eum statim dilacerarunt & deuorarunt

From Menaeis et Anthologio Graecor

Vnde productus in amphitheatrum a dimissis contra se leonibus discerptus est

Which may be compared to the Bede translation (the significant part quoted above, præfocauerunt eum tantummodo, & non tetigerunt carnes eius) and something the Acta Sanctorum lists only as Ex vetustissimis Mss. Latinis , which, likewise, says, & ex vtraque parte super eum incidentes præfocauerunt eum tantummodo, & non tetigerunt carnes eius.

What interests me is that in some stories–the earlier ones?–Ignatius gets torn to pieces and devoured; in the later ones, he gets killed, sometimes after several other torments(in a typical fashion) fail to kill him, but the lions only smother him (tantummodo is common, as if either to stress the miracle, or to stress the departure from generic expectations, I’m not sure), and, as the passiones make a point of mentioning, the lions do not eat him. This last point is especially interesting because it contradicts Ignatius’s wish to be consumed and to have the lions’ bodies be his (singular) tomb.* In other words, in the original story, we have a tension between Ignatius’s dismemberment and the reunification that the resurrection will effect, a tension given voice, but subtly, by the metaphorical transformation of multiple leonine stomachs into one tomb. In later stories (and I’m pretty sure they’re later), what’s only latent in the original becomes explicit: Ignatius never gets dismembered at all. On the one hand, he joins the set of saints whom animals refuse to dismember; on the other hand, the change introduces a willful incoherence into the passion that, to my mind, isn’t in fact so much introduced as heightened. He wants to be dismembered–as in the Bede passion, frumentum Christi sum, dentibus bestiarum molar, vt panis mundus inueniar–but the lions refuse it.

think that the average medieval person [and even the medieval theologian] knew, for a fact, that animals and even other humans could consume, digest, ground to bits,

Consume and ground to bits, yes, but nonetheless, there are some theologians who denied the capacity of animals to assimilate human flesh. Peter of Poitiers declared that neither humans nor animals assimilated anything to the truth of their nature. His argument’s a bit more extreme than other people who took similar positions, since in so doing, he preserves a continuity of selves even for nonhuman animals. In the second century, Athenagoras declared that creatures can assimilate only food that’s proper to them. Iirc, animals can’t assimilate human flesh, because eating people is not proper to animals (and, he added, that anthropophages will eventually starve to death if they subsist on a diet of only human flesh, since people shouldn’t eat people: Augustine countered by claiming that he’d seen people grow fat by eating people: I accept that Augustine’s making a point, but I don’t believe at all his claims of being a witness). William of Auxerre and Alexander of Hales revive Athenagoras’s argument (whether directly or not, I don’t know) in the 13th century. Quoting Alexander from Reynolds’ Food and the Body, 167, “there is an order in nature such that simple substances nourish plants, plants nourish beasts, and plants and beasts nourish human beings. Since human flesh is intended only to convert food and not to be converted as food, it is not appropriate nourishment for human beings [NOR, says I, for beasts, by implication]. But human flesh that has been generated from appropriate nutriment is not in the fullest sense the proper flesh of the one who has generated and possesses it: it has come from proper nutriment, but it is not proper flesh.”

* I’m reminded of the death of the wolf Ysengrimus, his being torn to pieces by the sow Salaura and her brood. Here’s my notes in part on that episode, Salaura says, ” ‘So let there be a change of names in both of us: you can be my Jonah and I’ll be your whale'” (537) (. . . . Mutetur nomen utrimque: / Sis michi tu Ionas et tibi Cetus ego. . .'” (ll. 374-5). Speaks of eating him as his ending up in her collection-box. Speaks of him as becoming a kind of relic and her stomach as a reliquary. He is parceled among the herd and “the pigs allowed less to survive that the least portion of a flea that has been cut into eight parts” (541) “parte minus minima porci superesse tulerunt, / Si fuerit partes sectus in octo pulex” (ll. 441-2) (from Mann, Jill. Ysengrimus: Text with Translation, Commentary, and Introduction. Mittellateinische Studien und Texte 12. Brill: Lieden, 1987). –

Nonetheless, it’s only a kind of body/self. As I’ve written here before, since the perfected body is a body preserved from all flux, what kind of body is it anyway? It’s a body that, in being purged of flux and weight, is not much of a body at all. All that has been preserved of the body is its borders, but that too is a reaction to ‘problem’ of the body, to wit, the permeability of its borders, where, in eating, evacuation, and, in fact, interacting with the world to form various assemblages, the membrane between inside and outside all too readily gives itself away as illusionary. In other words, a body with sure boundaries isn’t much of a body, either.


Now, the thing with Ignatius that I’ve never been able to answer satisfactorily is why the change in the story. The end result is the same–except in only one does he actually get to be, as he desires, torn to pieces–but the way there is startlingly different. Why the change? Being unable to answer that is in part what led me to cut that stuff from my diss. – See more at: