Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Ailbe's Wolf Mother

First, REGISTER, would you, for Speculative Medievalisms II. I just did.

And I know, I know, I owe a couple of responses to my last blog post, AND I promised a treatment The Canarien, one of the strangest chronicles I know (and I know a few, which I mean in the most literal way possible). BUT in revising my feral child paper for the GW MEMSI AVMEO collection (to be published by Oliphaunt Books), I stumbled across a great story from the lives of the Irish saints, too great to keep to myself much longer. It goes like this:

Olenais, who belongs to the household of the chief of Ara Cliach, impregnates Sanclit, one of the chief's serving-maid, and flees, fearing execution. He should have feared for his child. When Sanclit gives birth, the chief tells his servants to kill him, but, inspired (rather poorly I think) by the Holy Spirit, the servants just abandon the boy under a stone; and the stone is honored even today in his name, which is, namely, Albei. Here's the rest in Latin:
Sub petra autem eadem fera lupa habitabat, que sanctum puerum valde admauit, et quasi mater tenera inter suos catulos leniter eum nutriuit.
Quadam autem die cum illa fera bestia ad querendum victum in silius vagasset, quidam vir, nomine Loch'h'anus filius Lugir, naturali bono perfectus, videns sub petra illa puerum inter catulos, extraxit et secum ad domum suam portauit; statimque fera reuertens, et puerum absentem cernens, cum magno anelitu velociter secuta est eum. Cumque Lochanus domui sue appropinquasset, fera tenuit pallium eius, et non dimisit eum donec vidit puerum. Tunc Lochanus ad feram dixit: 'Vade in pace; iste puer nunquam amplius erit inter lupos, set apud me manebit.' Tunc fera illa, lacrimans et rugiens, ad speluncam suam tristis reuersa est.
But a certain wild wolf lived under the stone. She very much loved the holy child, and like a tender mother raised him gently among her whelps.
But on a certain day when this wild beast was wandering the forest seeking prey, a certain man, named Loch'h'anus son of Lugir, by nature excellent and good, saw a boy among the whelps underneath the stone, and removed him and carried him to his home; and the wolf turned back at once, and seeing that the boy was gone, followed after him quickly with great anelitu [help!]. And when she neared the home of Lochanus, she took hold of his cloak, and would not let him go until she saw the boy. Then Lochanus said to her, "Go in peace; this boy will not be among wolves any more but will remain with me." Then this wild beast, crying and moaning, returned to her cave in sadness. [Vitae Sanctorum Hiberniae, Vol. I, p. 46, an edition I'm using because the Heist edition isn't available online]
Oh, weeper: wait! There's a happy ending, because they meet again (page 62-63).
Quodam tempore homines illius regionis, id est Arath, cum suo duce venacionem fecerunt, ut lupos a finibus suis repellerent. Vna autem lupa direxit cursum suum ad locum in quo erat Albeus; et, sequentibus eam equitibus, posuit capud suum in sinu sancti Albei. Albei vero dixit ei: “Ne timeas; quia non solum tu liberaberis, set catuli tui venient ad te incolumes." Et ita factum est. Et ait Albeus, "Ego apud vos nutritus sum in infancia; et bene fecisti, quia in senectute mea venisti ad me. Nam ante me cotidie ad mensam panem commedetis, et nemo nocebit vobis” Ita lupi cotidie veniebant ad sanctum Albeum, et commedebant ante eum; et postea reuertebantur ad loca sua. Et nemo nocebat illis; nec ipsi nocebant alicui.
In that time the men of that region, which is Araid, went hunting with their lord, to drive the wolves from their borders. And one wolf directed her course to the place where Albei was; and, with horses chasing her, she put her head in Albei's lap. Albei said to her, "Fear not; for not only will I free you, but your whelps shall return to you unharmed." And so it was done. And Albei said, "I was raised among you as a child; and you did well to come to me in your old age. For you will eat bread with me at my table, and no one will hurt you." And that day the wolves came to Saint Albei, and they ate with him; and afterwards, they went back to their place. And no one hurt them; and they hurt no one.
(For a symbolic approach to these tales, see Dominic Alexander, Saints and Animals in the Middle Ages p. 79 and 78. I'll just note that stories of Irish saints and animals are not at all uncommon, but this one stands out for its nurturing wolf, its mother-love, and its final reciprocity that lends continuity to a life that's otherwise just a jumble of missionary miracles. I wouldn't be so quick to assimilate Ailbe's wolfmother either to vestigial (and very hypothetical) pagan deities [as did Plummer] or to any other reading that erases the singularity of this love, or indeed the singularity of love wherever it happens. Here as elsewhere love's singularity matters more than species)

The connection between this c. 800 story (per Richard Sharpe) and the story of the Wolf Child of Hesse is of course thinner than tenuous. So far as I know, only 3 mss of this vita survive, and I don't know where else Ailbe's story gets told. If I were still a betting man, I'd suggest that the story is further evidence of the well-attested early medieval interconnections between Irish and "German" monasteries. Perhaps some early version of the Wolfdietrich legend made its way to Ireland? Perhaps the Ailbe story made its way to, say, Erfurt or Hesse? A hunt like this is way outside the scope of a paper that's already overflowing its wordcount, but if someone knows off hand where to check, say, a catalog of the medieval library of St Peter of Erfurt...

Coming soonish: a story from Albertus Magnus that sounds VERY much like my Hessian Wolf Child story.


Jeffrey Cohen said...

"or to any other reading that erases the singularity of this love, or indeed the singularity of love wherever it happens": how that phrase so well captures the ethical thrust of your project, Karl.

Paolo Galloni said...

First, this is a daring and challenging blog. I'm very happy to meet all of of you here. I'm also a medievalist, from Italy, working on hunting, animals, but also memory, voice and cognitive representation of the past. Well, here I am. To suggest that stories traveled better than manuscripts ("verba volant scripta manent" originally enphasized this very idea) and that there probably is a memory of prehistoric narrative behind all those similar stories concerning human and animal intersections. But the very important point is that it still worked as medieval narrative and memory. All the best. Paolo

Kath said...

Just a note that the wolf episode is VERY abbreviated in the Bodleian copy, and to my recollection, doesn't go into the moral outcomes of the wolf's involvement in raising the Saint. I can send you the Latin sometime if you like - it's not been printed, but is buried somewhere in my MSt thesis. I'm sure I can find it in the rubble of my study somewhere... I'm fairly sure (also per Sharpe) that the Plummer text isn't printed from the MS that preserves the earliest version. If you want to chase it down, I think it's in Heist (ed) "Vitae Sanctorum Hiberniae e Codice olim Salmanticensi nunc Bruxellensi".

Jeb said...

Read this at a nice time. Just started a few days ago looking at the much later tale of Mis and Dubh Rois. and a possible relationship with grief/ Love sickness and the four humours. Mis is an Irish wild women.

Is you're project specifically related to love or the range of emotions you find in stories of wild men/ women and children?

It reminds me of a 20th century oral version from Texas: the wolves surround the house the child is taken to when found by humans and howl. Love and bonding would certainly explain their motivation.

Jeb said...

p.s. I caught the pod cast so no need to respond. Great! Food for thought.

I particularly liked the theme of entaglement. Eyes unable to open as they are held fast with birdlime or smeared on stick fingers. The limed soul is a rare motif you glimpse from time to time in these tales of wild things.

“Mine Eyes are Stauls and my hand’s lime twigs”

Karl Steel said...

Long overdue response to some of this.

Folks, first thing, for better editions of the Ailbe story, Heist's edition is better than Plummer's: here Thanks for that Kath. If you're still reading, yes, do send me what you have if it's different from the Heist or Plummer editions.

Paolo, I wouldn't know how to demonstrate prehistoric narratives, or what we would get from claims that the stories have a long history, so I'll be curious to see what you come up with. So far as I'm concerned, it's sufficient that the stories counteract the dominant medieval way of thinking of human/nonhuman relations, and that they do this counteraction in an intellectual context (the monastery) that we might think particularly conservative. I presume you're familiar on the wolf-scholarship of Gherardo Ortalli?

Jeb, likewise, if you're still here, are you working on something similar? I'd love to here more about it.

Kath said...

So done via email... the text was rather longer than I remembered!

Jeb said...

Karl yes although somewhat lazy stop start research.

I mainly centered on trying to establish if the older wild man theme has a direct relationship with later man like apes.

I must confess to stopping dead and moved to look at other related aspects when I found out after a few years what themes I would have to research to move further.

It appears to be the case they are fully related but would mean dealing with early modern and medieval concepts of sexuality, which is not a subject I have much interest in and in particular would mean dealing with disturbing and difficult aspects of sexuality.

Tracing themes regarding monkeys and human women which appear in St peter Damian's De Bono religiosi status et variorum animatium tropologia 1061 onward would have been required as it is this theme and its fusion with the rape motif central to many wild men tales that seems to explain the later relationship.

You never know were research will lead but this angle did not come as a pleasant surprise. Perhaps somewhat naive given the nature of this subject.

My main interest stemmed from the celtic wild man sexual motif, is absent and he is a vegetarian penitent, his sinful past is glossed over.I find this aspect somewhat more appealing. James Burnett (Lord Monboddo) and his humanity and love was also a strong motivating factor to begin.

I don't think I can gloss over or ignore the dark side and will have to tackle it at somepoint.

But the side of this that is so dangerously close to love causes me a mass of headaches.

I have not disscussed the full extent of this one before, just been sitting on it for a couple of years.