Friday, October 27, 2006

It doesn't all taste like chicken

Michel Pastoureau observes that "for medieval society, in effect, the animal that was closest to man is not the bear (despite its outward appearance and its supposed similar method of coupling), even less so the monkey (an abominable figure of the devil), but in fact the pig." The notable resemblance between human and pig, apparent in their shared cunning and omnivorousness, is perhaps at its most disquieting in the similarity between human and porcine anatomy, for this internal similarity is precisely what would be on display at Christian meals. If our Christian eaters had done their homework--and I don't doubt that some of them did--they would have recalled medieval medical treatises, which often included an anagrammatic pun on corpus (body) and porcus (pig). More likely, by remembering the common disparagement of pigs in medieval moral treatises, they would have thought about the pig as a speculum of their own gluttony, but the medical pun might be recalled even in this context: Peter the Chanter's On Virtues and Vices (aka Verbum abbreviatum), for example, points out that "the pig has much in common with humans in its body, as is shown from the arrangement of its internal organs (sicut ex anatomia et divisione ejus patet)" (PL 205:337D-338A). Perhaps first noted as long ago as, of course, Aristotle, such observations have the support of modern science: see Wilson Pond and Harry J. Mersmann's Biology of the Domestic Pig (New York, 2001), which observes that "the digestive similarity and nutrient requirements of the pig and human are remarkably similar."

Pond and Mersmann don't talk about similarity of flesh, but if they're ever so inclined, they might ask a Japanese robot to write a chapter in their textbook's next edition:

At the end of the robot's left arm is an infrared spectrometer. When objects are placed up against the sensor, the robot fires off a beam of infrared light. The reflected light is then analyzed in real time to determine the object's chemical composition.
"All foods have a unique fingerprint," Shimazu said. "The robot uses that data to identify what it is inspecting right there on the spot."
When it has identified a wine, the robot speaks up in a childlike voice. It names the brand and adds a comment or two on the taste, such as whether it is a buttery chardonnay or a full-bodied shiraz, and what kind of foods might go well on the side...
When a reporter's hand was placed against the robot's taste sensor, it was identified as prosciutto. A cameraman was mistaken for bacon.
All I have to say right now is: no kidding.


(hat-tip: Majikthise) (thanks to this ebay auction for the image. You've a day left if you want to own it yourself)

Claudine Fabre-Vassas The Singular Beast: Jews, Christians, and the Pig (trans. Carol Volk, New York, 1997) is essential. Michel Pastoureau’s several discussions of pigs can be found in: "Quel est le roi des animaux?" in Le monde animal et ses représentations au Moyen-Age (XIe-XVe siècles) (Toulouse, 1985); “L’homme et le porc: une histoire symbolique,” in Couleurs, images, symboles: études d'histoire et d'anthropologie (Paris: Léopard d'Or, 1989); "Histoire d'une mort infâme: le fils du roi de France tué par un cochon (1131)," Bulletin de la société nationale des antiquaires de France (1992): 174-76; "L'animal et l'historian du Moyen Âge." in L'animal exemplaire au Moyen Âge (Ve - Xve Siècle), ed Jacques Berlioz and Marie Anne Polo de Beaulieu (Rennes, 1999), 13-28; "La chasse au sanglier: histoire d'une dévalorisation (IVe-XIV siècle)," in La chasse au Moyen Age: société, traités, symboles, ed. Agostino Paravicini Bagliani and Baudouin van den Abeele, (Florence, 2000), 7-23; and "Une justice exemplaire: les procès intentés aux animaux (XIIe - XVIe s.)," Cahiers du Léopard d'or 9 (2000), 173-200. He reprints some of the above material in Les animaux célèbres, (Paris: Bonneton, 2001) and Une histoire symbolique du moyen âge occidental,(Paris: Seuil, 2004).

Narcissism Corner: if you're still a bit music-obsessed, listen to most or all of music through your computers, and are a medievalist, perhaps you'd care to join up with me here.

(best wishes, Eileen. Hope you're able to come back soon)


Eileen Joy said...

Last FM is so cool, Karl! Thanks for the reference.

Karl Steel said...

If you set up an account, look me up so I can add you to my friend list. Harh! This is fun. (if you're using a PC, I've discovered that media monkey is a superior music player (superior, that is, to itunes or winamp), especially when combined with this. It's relatively simple to connect mediamonkey with lastfm, although, in all honesty, it's even easier with itunes or winamp.


I have a longish post in draft for your/Moore's wolf thing that I hope to post in comments tonight. Hope I can get to it!

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Karl, do you know this deeply weird book, with its "probably exhaustive bibliography of pig literature":

Words fail in leafing through the thing.

Karl Steel said...

My goodness do I ever know it. I love the drawings! Kearney doesn't seem to be doing medieval things anymore: a pity, perhaps, since what he has, in spades, is sitzfleisch. Fabre-Vassas, Pastoureau, but above all Milo Kearney (plus Tubach) gave me all that I need for my pigs chapter.

Karl Steel said...

Okay, I just glanced at my notes for it. I can't bear to read too deeply for it, but, jeebus, do I love this: " "As the Middle Ages waned, humor waxed" (5).

Oh hell. Glancing further ahead: "But with the passing of this generation in Rome, along with its chiliastic hopes, the disappointment felt by many Romans must have contributed to the subsequent descent of Rome and its pig imagery into lewdness and obscenity" (140-1).

There but for the grace of god.