Friday, November 10, 2006

Medieval Roadkill, or Where Karl's Been

I hope some of you have noticed that I've been away for a few days (okay: a week or more). We're all busy, I know. Alas! Here's a bit of what I've been working on. My (nearly finished!) penultimate dissertation chapter is about carrion, hunting, and, in a kind of appendix, Yvain. Appropriately enough, the excerpt below is from somewhere in the middle. By this point, I've gone through the carrion rules of the penitentials (carrion, commonly called morticinum or suffocatum = the meat of animals wounded or killed by nonhuman animals, and it shouldn't be eaten, except, as I discuss later, by bestiales homines or lepers) and followed Mary Douglas and Rob Meens in rejecting explanations of carrion laws that appeal to hygiene or Leviticus/Deuteronomy. Unsurprisingly, I understand the laws as another manifestation of the human subjugation of animals.

Three ninth-century works—two penitentials and one letter—openly express what had been only latent in earlier carrion laws. Both the St. Hubert and Merseburg B penitentials forbid the consumption of any fish found dead in a river, "since it was not hunted by men." The letter, an anonymous cleric's response to a King, possibly Louis the German, King of the Eastern Franks, develops this point at far greater length; to the best of my knowledge, it is the most detailed discussion of suffocatum in the Middle Ages. The letter first restates Jerome’s gloss on Ezekiel 44:31, likely through the conduit of a penitential: “We call an animal ‘suffocated’ that was throttled or mangled by a wolf or a bear or by another beast (aliqua bestia). We say that this sort of flesh is to be abstained from and is not for use for eating or for any other consumption." At this stage, the letter’s definition seems to criminalize meat obtained with the assistance of falcons or dogs, animals that surely could be classified as “aliqua bestia.” The letter's recipient is a nobleman and hence almost indubitably a devotee of hunting. As such, he could only have been deeply dissatisfied had the letter ended with this point, which is, as I have shown, the point to which most penitentials confine themselves. But this letter is addressed to a noble, not to a general Christian audience; nor is it obliged to imitate the unornamented brevity of Penitential prose. Because the cleric has room to elaborate, and also because he must, he exempts most hunting from Christian strictures: or rather, he brings hunting within Christian regulation.
But as for that which was captured by a dog, we do not count this meat among suffocated things, since man is the hunter, accompanied by a dog, whose acute sense of smell and quick agility man uses to capture animals, and so this capturing of an animal is not to be assigned to the dog but to man. For when we ourselves write, we assign the writing, not to the pen that writes the letters, but to the hand (scripturam ipsam non calamo, quo litterae caraxantur, sed scriptoris manui deputamus). It should likewise be thought about snares or other suchlike traps, which human ingenuity and skillful industry has invented. And so one may universally deduce: whatever is captured by human effort, art, or skill should not be numbered among suffocated animals, nor does anyone commit offense who consumes this food with thanksgiving.

Terrestrial animals drowned in the alien element of water are likewise fit for eating, so long as they were chased into the water by hunting dogs. Fish suffocated by being removed from water are also licit. Contradicting other penitentials, the letter similarly reasons to allow the consumption of birds captured by tamed raptors, nets, or birdlime. In every case, the letter exempts animals from the category of suffocatum so long as humans wanted them dead. In an echo of 1 Timothy 4:4 or, indeed, Augustine, the letter also directs humans to avoid sin by eating with thanksgiving. The second half of the letter explains why Christians should follow dietary laws even though they have left behind Judaism, but, as is apparent, the letter turns to this explanation only after it has provided a definition of suffocatum that has everything to do with the proper control of violence and nothing to do with hygiene or, for that matter, any specifically Judaic law.

The letter distinguishes the carcasses of animals killed by wolves and bears from those killed or injured by domesticated carnivores. The letter also condemns the flesh of animals killed or injured by "aliqua bestia," but it does not explain what these beasts might be. They could well be dogs, but the letter refuses to imagine, or rather refuses to remark upon, the possibility that domestic carnivores might also hunt independently, like wolves or bears. Because the dog, like a pen, possesses no agency, the letter can preserve the supremacy of human agency: although humans and dogs work together in the violence of the hunt, the human remains the master, no more a companion with his dog than he is with any less organic technology. The letter has discursive precedent for its disavowal, for a longstanding textual tradition combines vigorous praise for canine facility in hunting with just as vigorous a denial of canine independence. Both Ambrose and Rabanus Maurus allude to the Dog of Antioch, an animal renowned for refusing to leave the corpse of its master and its alacrity in identifying--and sometimes assaulting--the murderer. However, Ambrose and Rabanus each hedge their admiration of dogs, Rabanus by declaring that “it is the nature [of dogs] not to be able to be without humans,” and Ambrose, more strongly, by declaring “that dogs are devoid of reason is beyond all doubt.” The very justness of Rabanus and Ambrose's denials of canine independence make their denials less effective than that of the carrion letter. While dogs, as Rabanus argues, at least might be thought not to be able to live well without humans, and while much evidence could readily be assembled to support Ambrose's claim of canine irrationality, dogs are very much unlike pens, for dogs, unlike pens, can act on their own. A pen would never write a charter by itself, while a dog certainly might hunt on its own if it had the opportunity or lacked the training to encourage it to leave independent violence exclusively to its masters. It is the very ineptness of the comparison that makes it so potent. Humans can distinguish between independent and dependent violence by whatever means they chose, for power itself is its own justification. The human need not look outside itself to judge what is right for it. If humans cannot consume carrion, they, at least, have the power to condemn it, and this power, especially at its most arbitrary, is ultimately what matters most.

Ambrose. Hexameron, Paradise, and Cain and Abel. Translated by John J. Savage. New York: Fathers of the Church, 1961, VI.4.23-24.
Dümmler, Ernst, ed. Epistolae Karolini Aevi III, Monumenta Germaniae Historica Epistolae 5. Berlin: Weidmann, 1899, 633-36.
Kottje, Raymund et al., ed. Paenitentialia franciae, italiae et hispaniae saeculi VIII-XI, Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 156-156A. Turnholt: Brepols, 1994, Vol I, 165 and 174.
Rabanus, De universo, PL 111: 223D-224A


J J Cohen said...

OK, comment on substance soon, but for now: that picture?????? Narrate, please.

Karl Steel said...

It's a little dog!


ALK was running a session at a conference in San Francisco some years back, and, as is my wont, I tagged along. We stopped at the children's museum, where we made clay figures of ourselves and set them up in various scenarios (like this one).

ALK's little dog--the dog's we like to own if we actually wanted to own a dog--is the masterpiece of that afternoon.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

Karl -- I think there is also a citation in the Annales Fuldensis that refers to carrion -- unless it's cannibalism, now that I think about it. But I'm pretty sure it's carrion. There are also references in Boniface's correspondence that might be contrasted -- horseflesh -- possibly carrion horseflesh, but there, the objection is probably more because of a pagan (Thuringian? as if there is such a thing) practice of eating/being buried with horses.

Don't know if any of that is relevant ...

Karl Steel said...

Thanks for the references ADM. They're totally relevant, but I actually already have them, so far as I know. I start my carrion section off by contrasting Raoul Glaber's infamous famine with the carrion set piece in the Annals of Fulda. In both, people eat morticina, but in the latter, the text goes out of its way to state, in the conclusion of its story, “compelled by necessity, the two revived themselves with flesh forbidden by the law." My section becomes, then, why should carrion be forbidden? Now there is particularly monstrous cannibalism in Raoul Glaber -- human flesh being sold in the marketplace "as if it some kind of livestock" and some other stuff too. I talk about it in my (already written) final chapter and also in an upcoming Kzoo paper on cannibalism.

For the Boniface, are you talking about the letter of Pope Zachery to the English missionary Boniface (martyred by the Germans in 754) that forbids not only horseflesh, but also beaver, hare, jackdaw, stork, and crow? I have a footnote on that, as it's quite weird. The Penitentials tend to allow eating hare (it has medicinal value), and, moreover, then tend not to proscribe animals on the basis on species but rather on the basis of what happened to them. Horses are of course the key exception, although, well, here's the rest of the footnote:

"The imposition of four years’ penance upon eaters of horseflesh in an eighth-century Irish penitential is unusual; more typical is the statement of a tenth-century penitential (Capitula Iudiciorum C. 1i, Meens, ed., Tripartite Boeteboek, 465), “equus non prohibetur ad manducandum, tamen non est consuetudo” (the horse is not prohibited for eating, but eating it is not customary). Bonnassie, "Aliments immondes," 1037 lists every reference to horseflesh in the many penitentials edited in Wasserschleben, ed., Bussordnungen."

J J Cohen said...

Not much to say here becuase what you write makes a lot of sense. It's all about the agency, isn't it?

Have you thought about the dog ifrom the Dolopathos / 7 Sages of Rome story -- the canine that saves a baby from being devored by a snake, and for his protective work is beaten to death by a master who thinks he has hunted/devoured the child? Weirdly it becomes a story abou the malicious agency of women rather than of dogs (motto: trust your dog, not your wife who tells you to beat your dog).

And what does carrion have to do with Yvain?

[PS Your link to the Karl made of clay is nightmare inducing. You ought not to be allowed in children's museums]

Karl Steel said...

I have a blog post on the Dolopathos dog story prepared that I'll post here someday when I feel happy with it. My approach to it has to do with the inability of the knight to find a suitable form of mourning. After all, all he's killed is a dog. Maybe I'll put in up in a few days when I come up for air again....I hadn't thought of the misogynist angle in it, though.

Carrion's got nada to do with Yvain, although I'm tempted to gaslight you, pseudo-society style, with a ms I discovered in which Yvain's a zombie. However, Yvain's got plenty to do with hunting. Since I turn to a 13th-c. hunting/carrion law after I do the penitentials, I have to explain the ideological utility of hunting to the elite. Once I've done that, I've opened the door to a new reading of Yvain's madness.

[PS harh. Some of the parents were a bit bugged by us, frankly. No surprise, as the narrative of that particular image is, "why are you drinking? shouldn't you be working? take that, beer-o!" If they were bugged by that imagine, they were really bugged by this one, our effort at a weejee style photo. Funny enough, it was the parents who groused. The kids loved us. Bad influences all around! I can imagine your Kid #1 doing just such a thing, although he's probably make some kind of space alien. (you'll note that ALK is wearing a Baby Bjorn. We'd been toting around one of my nephews in one a few weeks before we went to SF...)]

Another Damned Medievalist said...

That's the one, Karl -- IIRC, it's one of the ones (the one?) dated after Boniface becomes apostle to the Germans, possibly the same one that talks about Heden et al. as being at best badly converted, at best heretics?

I don't remember the other animals in it, though. And honestly, I don't know anything about why those animals would have been prohibited, except maybe the jackdaw, because I think they are corvinae and probably eat carrion themselves?

But the prohibition against horseflesh is, IIRC, likely related to the burial practices of the Merovingians and other Franks (and by extension, Thuringians, since there's good reason to think that there are at least some Franks settled in the area from the time of the dux Radulf on -- too much debate over Heden as a member of Radulf's family for me, but it is conceivable. Anyway, if I come across the exact reference to the horse prohibition, shall I pass it on?

Oh -- and I'm not sure whether you can use the other penitentials to refer to this one. That is, Boniface was such a maverick, and the frontiers were so different, that I'm not sure they follow. I think you could make an argument for using them in Bavaria, or in other areas where the Franks brought in/allowed in Irish/Columban monks. But Boniface id so much to separate himself from both the remnants of those earlier missions and the other A/S missions, that the penitentials might not hold true. Unless, of course, you have found them for Fulda or her daughter houses, in which case I'll shut up.

Off the top of my head, BTW, I think the reference is in either Talbot's translation of the Boniface letters (unlikely) or in W. Schlesinger, Geshichte Thüringens. Maybe. I haven't worked with either since I wrote the diss, so it's a bit fuzzy. But I do remember a specific explanation of the horseflesh somewhere ...

Another Damned Medievalist said...

Oh -- in general, isn't carrion forbidden in Leviticus?

Karl Steel said...


For carrion prohibitions in the Jewish scriptures, see Exodus 22:31, Leviticus 7:24 (maybe), and Deuteronomy 14:21.

Thanks for the discussion of the particularity of Boniface's mission. That's the kind of historical precision I'm going to have to think through the deeper I get into this stuff, but, for now, this hedgehog is still pretty 'big picture' in his approach. I don't know many medievalists who do early/Carolingian/Frankish/Ottonian? stuff (I'm in an English and Comp lit department, after all), so your comments are much appreciated.

Now, on the prohibition of horse eating (hippophagy?) and paganism. I just pulled my Emerton trans off Boniface's letters of the shelf, and here, Gregory III to Boniface, p. 36, we get:

"You say, among other things, that some have the habit of eating wild horses and very many eat tame horses. This, holy brother, you are in no wise to permit in future [sic] but are to suppress it in every possible way, with the help of Christ, and impose suitable penance upon the offenders. It is a filthy and abominable practice."

The context of this prohibition is clear: in the surrounding paragraphs, Gregory also prohibits pagan baptism, offerings for the dead, and also the consumption of food sacrificed to "Jupiter" (presumably some version of Odin?). So it looks like hippophagy, here at least, is a pagan practice, perhaps associated with the dead. Yet, while the prohibition of hippophagy might have initially been a way to counter eating practices the Church decided to identify as anti-Christian, the penitentials tend not to include proscriptions against hippophagy with the other proscriptions against 'pagan' practices. Hippophagy gets listed with the prohibitions against carrion, violating Lent, and the like, while the penitential lists the prohibitions of, say, placing your child in an oven or a woman placing a living fish in her vagina elsewhere. Although the logic may have been initially about separation between Christians and non-Christians, it seems that the logic eventually becomes whatever was the logic of the alimentary sections. That logic, I argue, has to do with human separation from animals.

Although I'm not making any formal argument for it in my diss., my inclination is that whatever the reason for the proscription of hippophagy, eventually horses are prohibited because they're symbols of power. The Meens below directed me to a fascinating work: Joseph and F. A. C. Mantello Goering, eds, “The Early Penitential Writings of Robert Grosseteste,” Recherches de Theologie Ancienne et Medievale 54 (1987), II.50, 102, where Grosseteste explains that “si pauper pro necessitate carnem asini aut caballi manducaverit, non nocet” (if a poor person eats an ass or horse out of necessity, it is not harmful). Briefly, it seems that the horses of the poor, draft animals that did not manifest the power of the horses of the elite, would have been discursively similar to oxen and hence somewhat, but not wholly, edible. I think about this, especially, in regards to Lydgate's 'Debate of the Horse, Goose, and Sheep,' where the Goose mocks the horse:

"Entryng the feeld he pleyeth the leoun;
What folwith aftir? his careyn stynkith sore" (222-23)

By contrast, as the goose brags, geese are edible. It's clear that the horse here is a military horse, and no doubt that military use (as well as the combination of horse and human in the chivalric circuit a la JJC's MIMs) stymied most horse eating, at least in the later Middle Ages.

By all means, keep passing on what strikes you. Just to save you the trouble, I've read the penitentials pretty thoroughly (in Kottje, Meens, McNeill and Gamer, and even Wasserschleben, in addition to non-penitential material with food laws where available in Latin or in English trans, like the Icelandic Gragas, and the various Norwegian lawcodes). If you want bibliography, useful articles (especially the Meens: he's a giant in penitentials studies) are:

Fern, Chris. “The Archaeological Evidence for Equestrianism in Early Anglo-Saxon England, c. 450-700,” in Pluskowski, Aleksander, ed. Just Skin and Bones? New Perspectives on Human-Animal Relations in the Historical Past. BAR International Series 1410. Oxford: Archaeopress, 2005, 43-71

Lepetz, Sébastian. "Sacrifices et inhumations de chevaux et de chiens en France du nord au IIIe siècle après J.-C." Ces animaux que l'homme choisit d'inhumer: contribution à l'étude de la place et du rôle de l'animal dans les rites funéraires. Colloque d'histoire des connaissances zoologiques 11. Journée d'étude, Université de Liège, 20 mars 1999. Liliane Bodson, ed. Liège: Liege University, 2000. 93-125.

Meens, Rob. "Eating Animals in the Early Middle Ages: Classifying the Animal World and Building Group Identities" in Jordan, William Chester and Angela N. H. Creager, eds. The Animal/Human Boundary: Historical Perspectives. Studies in Comparative History. Rochester, NY: U of Rochester P, 2002. 3-28

Sigaut, François, “La viande de cheval a-t-elle été interdite par l’église?,” Ethnozootechnie 50 (1992): 85-91.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

Ooh! Interesting things! I've read very few penitentials, as it happens, so most of this is new to me. It's just one of those weird times where having research centered around Fulda helps. Oh -- funny thing. When I was in Fulda for a few days to get a feel for the place, back before I really started with my research, I saw horse on the menues of a couple of restaurants there!

It's an interesting idea, that of horses and power -- but the first thing that popped into my head was , "OK, Karl -- then how does that fit in with jackdaws and beavers?" Are they seen as powerful?

Or, if you're right about the differentiation between the different types of horses, could there be something as simple as adding a stronger prohibition for the protection of peasants who might otherwise kill a warhorse? Alternatively, is the differentiation one of ownership? Were the penalties for a warrior eating his warhorse in desperation similar to a peasant eating a ploughhorse? Argh. And of course, this brings up the question of how commonly horses were used for agriculture at a particular time.

Karl Steel said...


Horses in agriculture: conventional wisdom is that horses not used widely in agriculture until the 11th c. or so with the invention of the rigid horse collar. Or so I understand, but I might be totally wrong on this.

Oh, the Penitentials are so much fun! The best place to start is McNeill and Gamer, Medieval Handbooks of Penance. Although it's 70 years old or so, it's all translations, a good (and wide) selection, and the notes strike me as pretty good (but also good things to strike out against). Allen Frantzen's Literature of Penance in Anglo-Saxon England is also quite readable. Time has no doubt hurt his arguments (the book is 23 years old), but it's still a pleasure because of its clarity.

Jackdaws &c.: maybe. I think Pope Zachery's list is so idiosyncratic -- there's really nothing else like it that I know -- that it doesn't bear too much analysis. If we had more context, sure, but since we don't, we're just playing interpretative games.

Now, I think the horse thing is initially a blow against 'pagan' practices, but eventually it assumes another meaning, which has to do with power (which isn't to say that the proscription isn't initially ALSO about power: see below). I think that's why Grosseteste specifically exempts poor people from severe punishment for eating horses. It part, it's likely sympathy; but it's also the fact that the horse of a pauper is a lot like an ox. The full canon of that penitential, by the way, is this:

“Si pauper pro necessitate carnem asini aut caballi manducaverit, non nocet; si canem iii. di paeniteat; si humanam carnem manducaverit, x an. paeniteat” (if a poor person eats the flesh of a horse or ass out of necessity, it is not harmful; if a dog, let the pauper do penance for three days; if the pauper has eaten human flesh, let him or her do ten years of penance).

I see what's happening here an increasingly severe penalty as we approach the human. The human of course = the human, but dogs, because they eat meat, because they dominate other animals (even if they belong to a pauper), are more humanlike than horses; and horses, so long as they belong to a pauper, are not all that human at all.

There's also the notorious hippophagy described by everyone's favorite, Gerald of Wales, in the History and Topography of Ireland. The new king has sex with a white mare in view of his subjects, then the mare is killed and boiled, after which the king has a bath prepared from the water used to boil the mare. He sits in the water, now broth, while eating pieces of the mare with his subject, drinking from the broth in which he sits all the while.

Now, it's clear that Gerald means to condemn BOTH pagan practices AND violations of power. In this case, the power is IRISH power, whose exercise is a violation of power because Gerald wants Irish power to give way. Moreover, Gerald's overwrought disgust indicates, I think, the political purposes of the condemnations of hippophagy in the early Middle Ages: preventing hippophagy might have been a way to bring local magnates under the control of monks and/or bishops.

I wonder how I'm meant to hear this:
A Synod in England in 786 forbade hippophagy among the Mercians: “Equos etiam plerique in vobis comedunt, quod nullus Christianorum in Orientalibus facit: quod etiam evitate” (And many among you eat horse flesh, which no Christian in the West does: therefore, shun it).

This is the report of Bishops George of Oste and Thophylact of Todi to Pope Hadrian I and is listed under “Ut reliquias paganorum rituum quisque abjiciat” (All should abandon pagan rites). Among the practices prohibited were what appear to be various cosmetic mutilations of horses (ear-splitting, amputation of tails, and the like) and the casting of lots.

But, uh, why that in Orientalibus? Surely the Eastern Church (Theodore of Canterbury's origins, right?) didn't eat horse?


There's some marvelous stuff in hippophagy in Gervase of Tilbury that maybe I'll share here sometime.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

Wait -- I thought Orientalibus was locative for East, not West? Because isn't West Occidentalibus or something like that?

On the horse collar, I know that's what I learned, but there's a part of me that says that that's been revised in the past 20 or so years and Lyn White's thesis has undergone lots of revision ...
Maybe there's something in Bachrach?
Anybody? Muhlberger? Bueller?

Karl Steel said...

Wait -- I thought Orientalibus was locative for East, not West? Because isn't West Occidentalibus or something like that?

Ha! Ha! Oh, man. Haha. Yeah, you're right. If Homer nods, so can I all. All the time.

At any rate, that explains it. Thophylact (typo for Theophylact?) is certainly from the East, and George? I'd bet him too.

Good this that was from something I cut from the diss. Hate to try to slip that past my committee. I'd burn off a lot of good will that way.

At any rate, if I ever try to do more with this hippophagy stuff -- and there's a lot of very neat material that's just in a pile in my wee mind -- I'll track down that horse collar thing. Or make Bueller do it.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

OH, thank goodness. My real Latin (as opposed to my land transaction Latin) is not as good these days as it should be, but I was slightly worried for a minute! GLad I'm not the only one to have brain farts!