It's that most wonderful time of the year, by which I mean of course the time to prepare next Semester's syllabi. I'm teaching just the one course, described below:
English 791X, “Saints, Monsters, and Animals in the Middle Ages”
“For anyone who doubts that a horse is by its very nature better than wood, and that a human being is more excellent than a horse, should not even be called a human being.”
This seminar will explore the multiple edges of humanity as it abuts on, and mixes with, the super-, sub-, and extrahuman. Course readings will treat a wide range of literatures, ranging from the era of the Roman empire through Early Modern writers like Montaigne. Readings will concentrate, however, on works of the Middle Ages, including narrative, church doctrine, and law: these include considerations of the nature of the human by Augustine and Aquinas, a ninth-century letter on dog-headed humans, a twelfth-century account of a dog revered as a saint, and several stories of saints that have left behind human civilization; we will also read in secondary, theoretical material, including Critical Animal Theory, Ecofeminism, and Posthumanism: philosophers of interest will include Ralph Acampora, Carol Adams, Matthew Calarco, Jacques Derrida, Donna Haraway, Kelly Oliver, and Cary Wolfe.
I have 20 students, 15 classes to fill, each 90 minutes long, and I'm looking for advice from the many of you who have taught similar courses, sometimes multiple times. Here's a possibility for now:
- Introduction: theoretical approaches
- Christian Foundations: Bible: Creation accounts in Genesis and Psalms 74:12-17; Numbers 22:1-41 (Balaam and the Donkey); Acts of Peter 9 (talking dog); Augustine on Animals (DCD I.20) and Ambrose Hexaemeron (excerpts); [perhaps Christians vs. Animal Reverence from Gerald of Wales [coronation ceremony] and Pagan Horse Consultation in Henry of Livonia's Chronicle]
- Abandoned Possibilities: Plutarch, "Beasts are Rational" (Gryllus the Pig debates with Odysseus); Sextus Empiricus on Animal Reason; Endelechius "On the Death of Cows"; Montaigne on his Cat; Acts of Phillip 8 [leopard and goat turned transformed into humans to participate in Eucharist];
- Studying Nature/Nature Studying Us: Bestiary excerpts; Owl and the Nightingale
- Holy Compassion and Confusion: Waddell, Beasts and Saints; Benedict mistaken for Animal (from Gregory the Great, Dialogues)
- Into the Wild: Vita Merlini; John Bouche d'Or or any Hairy Saint Life (whatever's been translated)
- Dogs: The 'Canis' Legend from 7 Sages of Rome (including Stephen of Bourbon on Guinefort) and Other Loyal Dogs (Dog of Antioch/Queen Sebille story)
- Monsters: Liber monstrorum; Cursor Mundi on the 'conversion' of monsters; Ratramnus of Corbie's Letter on the Cynocephali
- Monstrous Progeny: Melusine and Other Monsters from Geoffrey of Auxerre's Apocalypse Commentary; Gerald of Wales on Werewolves and Cowboys; Green Children
- Yvain [suggestions on translation? I don't want the Cline, nor do I want a Chrétien omnibus; ideally, I'd like an OF/English facing page, but I don't think that exists]
- Either Albina and Her Sisters or Lydgate, 'Debate of the Horse, Goose, and Sheep'
- Weeks 12-15: Secondary Reading + Presentations
What are your suggestions? What would you swap out? What does a course like this absolutely need? Currently, I think its chief impediment is its anthropocentrism, but I locked myself into that with the course description: next time, I'll try for a more strongly ecocritical and nonhuman angle.
(UPDATE JAN 15 2010: and here is the syllabus)