De hominibus qui se vertunt in lupos
Sunt homines quidam Scottorum gentis habentes
Miram naturam majoram ab origine ductam,
Qua cito quando volunt ipsos se vertere possunt
Nequiter in formas lacerantum dente luporum,
Unde videntur oves occidere saepe gementes;
Sed cum clamor eos hominum seu cursus eorum
Fustibus aut armis terret, fugiendo recurrunt.
Cum tamen hoc faciunt sua corpora vera relinquunt,
Atque suis mandant ne quisquam moverit illa;
Si sic eveniat, nec ad illa redire valebunt.
Si quid eos laedat, penetrent si vulnera quaeque,
Vere in corporibus semper cernuntur eorum.
Sic caro cruda haerens in veri corporis ore,
Cernitur a sociis, quod nos miramur et omnes.
(Thomas Wright and James Orchard Halliwell, eds, Reliquiae Antiquiae: Scraps from Ancient Manuscripts Illustrating Chiefly Early English Literature and the English Language, Vol I, London, 1841, 105; also available online here in Mommsen's edition; best edition in Gwynn's The Writings of Bishop Patrick, Dublin, 1955)
"There are certain men of the Celtic race who have a marvelous power which comes to them from their forebears. For by an evil craft they can at will change themselves into the shape of wolves with sharp tearing teeth, and often thus transformed will they fall upon poor defenseless sheep, but when folk armed with clubs and weapons run to attack them shouting lustily then do they flee and scour away apace. Now when they are minded to transform themselves they leave their own bodies, straitly charging their friends neither to move or touch them at all, however lightly, for if this be done never will they be able to return to their human shape again. If whilst they are wolves anyone hurts or wounds them, then upon their own bodies the exact wound or mark can plainly be seen. And with much amaze have they been espied in human form with gobbets of raw bleeding flesh champed in their jaws" (lovely quaint translation from Montague Summers, The Werewolf in Lore and Legend, 1933, 207-208)
According to Bernard Merdrignac, "Les loups, saint Guénolé et son double," in Religion et mentalités au Moyen Âge, 2003, 457-65 (via Hervé Martin), the poem is a paraphrase of material by an eleventh-century Bishop of Dublin, Patrick (d. 1084). In other words, it's a pre-conquest poem likely revived for use in an Ireland conquered yet again. Apart from the Merdrignac and the Martin (presumably, since I've yet read it), the poem doesn't yet seem to have received what we owe it. A search of google books turns up virtually nothing; the International Medieval Database suggests Máire West, "Aspects of díberg in the tale Togail Bruidne Da Derga," in Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie 49-50 (1997): 950-964; and the closest the MLA gets us is Winifried Schleiner, "'Tis Like the Howling of Irish Wolves Against the Moone': A Note on As You Like It, V.ii.109," English Language Notes 12 (1974): 5-8. I'm certainly missing something, as this putatively exhaustive search turns up neither the Merdrignac nor the Martin nor the work on wolves by Philippe Ménard or Aleks Pluskowski. In other words, I'm probably missing something, but all I have right now is my own library and the false plenitude of the internets.
I don't have much to say about the poem yet. My point here is simply to introduce it in the hopes that someone will recall an essential article on the poem, invisible to google books and the main databases, or, better yet, in the hopes that it generates interpretation and wonder from my co-bloggers and our readers. For now, I'm struck first by the poem's muddling of responsibility for the lycanthropy. Does the power to turn into wolves come "ab origine ductam"? In other words, is the power racial and hence to some degree outside their power? Is it a natural wonder ("miram naturam")? Or is it by will ("quando volunt")? Whence comes the evil (since they're changing shape "nequiter")? Or are these the wrong questions to ask?
I also wonder about the "men who run at them armed with clubs and weapons" [q: what makes a club different from armum?]--their Irish (?) enemies--and about suis--their Irish (?) Werewolf (?) companions? Who colludes and who does not? And, to sharpen/hobble Wright's translation in the last lines, who are the witnesses to all this? ("One with raw flesh stuck to the mouth of his true body has been seen/examined thus by (our?) associates/colleagues/allies, which we and all others wondered at")? And what of the raw flesh of sheep (not of humans) stuck to their face? Why should violence be the ineluctable mark of their racial stain (?), whether the violence they suffer or the violence they cause?
One way in might be through JJC's discussion of Gerald and Werewolves in On Difficult Middles:
Medieval writers were fond of attaching allegorical meanings to fauna, spawning a tradition of bestiaries that were ultimately more about humans than animals. Gerald leaves us in no doubt what the wolf represents when he writes later in the Topography that 'wolves in Ireland generally have their young in December, either because of the extreme mildness of the climate, or rather as a symbol of the evils of treachery and plunder which here blossom before their season.' The Irish inside their wolfskins are not very different from the treacherous, plunder-driven Irish inside their human forms. Their lycanthropy only makes visible in their bodies what they already are... (86-87)
With that in mind, I wonder about the poem's insistence on "true bodies"? Why should the werewolf's true body be a human form rather than a form that admits of both bodies? Doesn't the mouth smeared with sheepblood display the doubled body that is their actual, true form, the wolf and the human together? Building on her work on resurrection doctrine, Caroline Walker Bynum speaks of werewolf stories as indicative of an understanding of "the embodied nature of self" and reflecting "less a desire to shed body than an effort to understand how it perdures, less an escape into alterity than a search for the rules that govern change" (Metamorphosis and Identity, 109), where the human form, the "corpora vera" underneath the wolf, persists despite mutability. But I wonder if the truth smeared over the face is another kind of bodily truth, one not of bodily depths underneath but one of surfaces, one of stains.
What do you all make of this?