Monday, October 14, 2013

Animals/Eco - again with a strange set of texts

Souillac, Abbey of St Mary by KARL STEEL

I'm very fortunate in being able to do an Ecology and Animals seminar at the CUNY Grad Center Spring 2014, which means, once again, I'm sharing my ideas (preliminary share here). I've set myself a constraint, however: Susan Crane is teaching an animals grad course at Columbia right now. On the off chance I draw any of her students to my class, I want to limit overlap with her texts. This means I'm avoiding Yvain, SGGK, the saints' lives of the early North (Cuthbert and Ireland), and hunting material.

Here's what I'm thinking:
  • the Souillac animals column (see picture)
  • Representative Lays: Guigemar, Yonec, Bisclavret, and Melion
  • Chaucer, Parliament of Fowles, House of Fame, and Prioress's Potrait (instead of the Nun's Priest's Tale)
  • Robert Henryson, The Morall Fabillis
  • Various children raised by animals from Gesta Romanorum and other Exempla/Historical texts (Cyrus and Prince of Crete, etc.)
  • Anglo-Norman Voyage of St Brendan (possibly from here)
  • Alexander and Dindimus material alongside Alexander and the Tree Ladies (with McCracken reading from AVMEO)
  • Gerald of Wales, History and Topography of Ireland
  • Medieval Death and Vermin and other small life: poetry and encyclopedias
  • Saga of Grettir the Strong
  • The Canarian, with associated materials on the Canary Islands by Petrarch and Boccaccio
The BIG addition, apart from the saga and The Canarian, whose genre and content will be entirely new to me, at least for teaching, will be Melusine, which I'm doing over 2 weeks in this 1895 EETS edition of the Middle English translation, available for free on If you know a better edition, in print and inexpensive and in English, do let me know. It's a text I've never read, but one I think any good medieval animals/monster/eco scholar should know well.

A few principles, then: I'm not wedding myself to "coverage." I'll tell them about the main texts we're not reading, and tell them that any medievalist should know them. But I'm also trying, well, to change the canon. A new focus requires a new set of primary texts, yes?

(and for those agitating for the Chester Noah: maybe I can squeeze it in at the very end?)


Jeffrey Cohen said...

I know I've been hectoring you on Twitter about this course's readings, but wanted to say here that I think Grettir's saga works very well via a critical animal studies focus (so found my grad seminar at least). Melusine, I don't know: I'd be reluctant to give two weeks to it. Admittedly it's been a long time since I've looked at French or English versions -- a very long time in fact -- BUT my memory is that it doesn't hold the same complexity as say the ME translation of Bevis of Hampton when it comes to animals. Two weeks is SUCH a long time in a graduate seminar to dedicate to a text...

Jeffrey Cohen said...

But also wanted to add: this course will be great, and I wish I could come to NYC once a week to sit in. An OE text like Beowulf might have worked well (or even Guthlac!), and an Hiberno-Latin one like Admonan's vita of St Columba; those would make Grettir seem less of an outlier by shifting you north and west as well as looking at the traditional medievalist French-English-Latin Christendom entanglement. None of these texts are animal-centric but maybe that is what would make them interesting as well?

Karl Steel said...

Will definitely have to read Melusine myself in advance. If I swap it out, I could bring in LATER or EARLIER texts instead to mess with periodization. I've been compiling a list of likely early modern readings.

In re: the North -- could just do Cuthbert and have them read from Crane's book while looking at the Yates Thompson ms with the Cuthbert life. Or could play up the Brendan voyage more along with, say, Ratramnus's Letter on the Cynocephali.