Sophie Bostock, Orientalist Museum, Doha: The Visual Culture of Death - an Oriental Perspective
From 1588 to 1589 Bartholomäus Schachman (1559-1614), Mayor of Danzig (Gdańsk) journeyed through the Ottoman Empire. His itinerary took him to Istanbul, Jerusalem, Cairo, Ragusa, Curzola as well as the islands of Crete, Rhodes and Chios. In common with other travellers who visited the Eastern Mediterranean at that time, Schachman commissioned artists to make visual records, in the form of an album of watercolors, of the various aspects of life and culture that he encountered during his adventures. This volume, which now forms part of the collection at the Orientalist Museum in Doha, Qatar, is a remarkable eyewitness account of the people, costumes, quotidian scenes, festivals, and rituals that constituted part of life in sixteenth-century Ottoman Empire. Among other things, Schachman witnessed various funeral ceremonies and there are five intriguing images that can be understood in relation to the visual culture of death in the Oriental tradition at this time: 1. A Turkish burial, 2. The funeral of a Turkish king; 3. A Jewish burial in Turkey; 4. Christians lamenting their dead, and, 5. Christian ceremonies at the Holy Sepulchre the evening before Easter. This imagery can be explored within its historical, social, cultural and iconographic context illuminating important topics for discussion such as the interaction between Jews, Christians, and Moslems in the Early Modern Period and the funeral ceremony as a gendered space. There will also be an opportunity to compare key cognate works, for example, the Tűrkisches Manierenbuch ca. 1590 at Kassel University Library as well as a watercolor travel album executed during the same period at the Bodleian Library, Oxford.
Cyril L. Caspar (University of Zurich), “New Perspectives of the Early Modern Afterlife: The Last Pilgrimage in the Poetry of John Donne and Sir Walter Raleigh
Apart from the many conceptions of death as rather gruesome, punitive, and annihilating, the early modern period also knew more joyful ones. One of these is related to the trope of the pilgrimage conceived as a journey through life to a heavenly destination. My Ph.D. project posits that the conceit of the last pilgrimage, the final phase of such a metaphorical journey, is capable of generating semantic innovations that profess to transcend this-worldly life and unfold different literary versions of the time to come. The aim of this paper is to approach two very different poems by John Donne and Sir Walter Raleigh, in which this same metaphor of the last pilgrimage is at work, and to examine its potential of opening up new and different perspectives of the early modern afterlife.
Before turning to the two poems, a cursory overview of some devotional manuals by Erasmus, Thomas Becon, and others will be necessary to understand how early modern divines used the metaphor of the last pilgrimage pastorally to palliate the pangs of death and to evoke a sense of equanimity. In my analysis of one of Donne’s Holy Sonnets, I will present a poetical speaker on the threshold of his last journey, trembling at the impending disintegration of his body and soul. While the majority of this poem consists of the ruminations of the moribund pilgrim, I will argue that it eventually suggests a new and uncorrupted unity of a heavenly body and soul, a new heavenly self, that is encapsulated in Donne’s simple use of the first personal pronoun in both this poem and in one of his many sermons. A second literary instance of the last pilgrimage will be used to illustrate that this metaphor can also take a different route: in “The Passionate mans Pilgrimage,” a 58-line poem often attributed to Raleigh, the imminent decapitation of a convict (perhaps Raleigh himself) poses a violent threat to his bodily integrity. While he foresees the sanguinary fate of his body on the scaffold, he envisions his soul taking the last pilgrimage to a final heavenly tribunal that is devoid of earthly corruption. Thus, while Donne’s poem invites the reader into a dying person’s most inner thoughts via the last pilgrimage, the poem attributed to Raleigh uses the trope for a political cause, namely, to denounce those earthly authorities that are responsible for the speaker’s death sentence.
Albrecht Classen (University of Arizona, Tucson): Des Teufels Netz: A Late Medieval German Reflection on the All-Encompassing Power of the Devil
Strangely, while Boccaccio created with his Decameron (ca. 1350) the definitive literary reflection on the Black Death, we find hardly any other fictional text with similar concerns. At the same time, the interest in the devil and death increased tremendously. Devil literature proliferated to an unforeseen extent, such as in the case of Des Teufels Netz (early fifteenth century), which has so far attracted surprisingly little interest. While the anonymous author does not explicitly examine the epidemic consequences of the Black Death, which certainly extended to the fifteenth century, he has his protagonist, the Devil, review all the human shortcomings and outlines, in a way, a Dance of Death, dragging all people with him to hell. Many other contemporary authors elaborated in great detail on the many different social classes and their failings in moral and ethical terms. Des Teufels Netz will serve as the central platform to examine this topic at greater length.
Allison P. Coudert (University of California, Davis): "Changing Attitudes Toward Pain and Suffering in Early Modern Thought"
Rosemarie Danziger (Tel Aviv University: Palimpsest in the Service of the Cult of the Saints – The False Arch in the Nave's Vault of the Abbey Church of Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe
Recent research of the lacunae in the arch using relevés )copies of phantom lines and analysis of pigments(, enhanced by computer generated imagery carried out at the CESCM lab, University of Poitiers, has revealed the haloes of the busts, thus corroborating my iconographic observation. The assumption regarding the faux doubleau as a palimpsest awaits either confirmation or refutation by means of the archeological-stratigraphic data which is currently being evaluated at the CESCM lab. One should bear in mind the complexity of the faux doubleau, which constitutes a junction between the median ornamental band in the apex of the vault and the inscription bands. To validate the posited assumption, moreover, the extent of interval regularity between the biblical scenes must be examined, in order to understand how the faux doubleau could have been inserted into the existing iconographic program.
Kim Eherenman (University of San Diego): The Heart of the Matter: Ritual Human Sacrifice in the Florentine Codex
Mary Louise Fellows, Everett Fraser Professor of Law, Emerita (University of Minnesota Law School): Death and Ritual: The Role of Wills in Anglo-Saxon England
Nurit Golan (Tel Aviv University): Scientific Imagery as a Funerary Art
In this paper I will address the unique imagery of this Creation of the Cosmos, which displays an acquaintance with the contemporaneous new and contested cosmological theories, which were rarely represented in public art. Unlike earlier research that claimed that this portal was seen only by clerics, I argue, relying on archeological studies and chronicles, that this imagery could also have been seen by the towns' burghers while using the services of the chapel. It is probable that the portal was even commissioned by the town's municipality (Rat), as had been the choir itself.
I maintain that in its display of secular scientific imagery, indicating secular scientific literacy, the north portal becomes even more intriguing because of its time and place. For, while featuring the Creator as the God of the Beginning and the End, the beginning, nevertheless, is not that of the Bible, neither that of Genesis nor that of John, but that of Aristotle. Together with the inner tympanum, featuring God's sacrifice for mankind, this portal calls for a new interpretation, addressing the question of what kind of consolation was there for the mourners in this novel imagery.
Václav Grubhoffer (University of South Bohemia, České Budějovice Czech Republic): Fear of Apparent Death in Eighteenth-Century Europe
Faith S. Harden (University of Arizona): Writing Against Death: Autohagiography and Jerónimo de Pasamonte’s Vida y trabajos (1605)
John M. Hill (U.S. Naval Academy): Heroic Deaths in Old English Literature
Whether eventually burned or dying in prayer, the fighting hero has remarkable self-possession and singular honor in a culture that valued such qualities preeminently. We have often misunderstood Beowulf's decision to fight the dragon alone and also Byrhtnoth's bold move in front of the battle line. Both strike many readers today as instances of excessive pride or even hubris. By censuring those moves we misunderstand them. They are rooted in a psychology of personal luck, in tasks that are the hero's own, by which he would test his fate and, if possible, keep his retainers out of harm's way. In Byrhtnoth's case the move has transcendent implications, making him a secular saint whom his good retainers follow in the either/or of revenge or martyrdom, whatever their professed, warband motivations.
Jean Jost (Bradley University, Peoria, IL): The Effects of the Black Death: Indications of the Plague in Fourteenth-Century Art and Literature
Preceding famines may have diminished the English population of six million (see Cantor’s In the Wake of the Plague; Hatcher’s Plague , Population, and The English Economy; Hilton’s Bondmen Made Free; and Binski’s Medieval Death), but the Black Death utterly crushed the citizenry. During their long struggle back, victims found multiple methods of coping with the shocking loss of family, friends, and neighbors. Their communities had dissolved before their eyes. As Gordon Home notes, "After ten years, a third of the walled area [of London] was void of inhabitants. The main effect of this fearful visitation was to dislocate the economic structure of the kingdom. Labour became scarce, and the working man’s services were so valuable that he could extract higher wages. . . . Further, there was a tendency to migrate from one place to another"(135). The lasting impression such deadly chaos imprinted upon their minds triggered a vast emotional and cultural change. Now the new norm reached a highly emotional pitch–in religion, art, music, and literature.
The self-flagellation and affective piety movements revealed new instances of the sorrows carved from Christ’s agony, his Mother’s passion, and martyrs’ suffering. A confluence of art burgeoned forth in which people’s fears and anxieties were manifested. Across the continent, painters, sculptors, engravers, and wood-cutters found themselves recreating that very death they so abhorred. The Golden Age of the Book of Hours, occurring from 1350 to 1480, evinces this death-obsession. For example, Jean, Duc de Berry’s Très Riches Heures, folios 142-57, well depicts this suffering, as do French Gothic Illuminators. Painters such as Albertus Pictus (Taby Kryka), Rogier van der Weyden (Descent from the Cross [1435-40]) and Hans Balding Grien (The Three Ages of Man and Death ). The frescoed cemetery of the Church of the Holy Innocents in Paris (1424) graphically realizes death. Hans Holbein the Younger, Bernd Notke in Lübeck and Konrad Witz further the obsession. Writers such as Petrarch, Boccaccio, Langland, and Chaucer soon joined the band of death-obsessed survivors, producing a fanatical, but also amazing, flowering of the many testimonies to death’s power. These wide-ranging backgrounds need further investigation and connection to each other.
Gruesome as the Black Death may be, it yet holds a certain fascination for modern scholars, historians, and particularly young people for whom the ordinary world of art and culture may not be compelling. The more seductive skeletons, ghostly manifestations, and other-worldly visions may well be an entry point to captivate students. Currently, no in-depth exploration of the nature and effects of the plague from varied perspectives is included in curricula of existing programs. Biology students will find the conflicting views of the nature of the disease particularly interesting. General Education programs, civilization courses, history of art programs, languishing from lack of student interest, may benefit from this connection between medieval suffering and artistic creation still vibrant today. Professors learning of the many cultural results of the bubonic plague may carry these outcomes to classrooms with vigor. My plan is to incorporate this theme into two classes: a unit in an upper-level general education writing course focusing on the early history of humanity; and a unit in the upper level Survey of Middle English Literature exploring social and cultural history of England and Europe. I believe the fascinating nature of the topic and the many angles from which it can be approached will captivate students.
Sharon D. King (UCLA): “Je viens.../ d’estrange contrée”: Medieval French Comedy Envisions the Afterlife
Daniel F. Pigg (The University of Tennessee at Martin): Mass, Death, and Plague in Chaucer's Pardoner: A Critique of Medieval Eucharistic Practices
That the mock mass in the Pardoner's Tale is a mass of death has been noted by a number of scholars of the tale, who observe the quite obvious Eucharistic and crucifixion imagery. Paul Strohm has noted the text's handling of ideas about the Eucharist and masses said in memory of the departed that would have been current debate in Wycliffite circles; he terms it part of Chaucer's "Lollard Joke." Other historicist readings have provided wider contexts for understanding this tale. The present attempt examines the actions of the three rioters in a new context that the tale attempts to subvert as it mimics the action of the mass. At the same time, this paper raises some basic questions about medieval studies' fascination with cultural and folklore studies as a means of opening texts.
Of the tales in the Canterbury project, the Pardoner's Tale is the only one set at the time of the Black Death or perhaps more generalized plague, and the symbolic manifestations of this major social and economic disaster in history serve as a major backdrop in the tale. What has not been observed thus far in studies of the tale are the connections between masses said for the dead and the mock mass of the tale. For the most part, studies have read from the text outward to find social manifestations that would make the tale make sense. Thus the literary text is seen as a reflector of external realities. This paper proposes to read from the outside cultural texts inward toward Chaucer's tale. Such an analysis should not be understood as reading in, but as an examination of the contours that might help to shape such a text. Susan Sontag's Illness as Metaphor and Aids and Its Metaphors shows how diseases such as cancer and tuberculosis from the nineteenth century on have structured social space, not only in the treatment of illnesses arising from these diseases but also in terms of notions of the effects of tuberculosis, for example, on the creative mode for interpreting and representing life and aesthetics. The same might well be said of the Black Death in 1348-49 throughout England and Western Europe. Institutional practices, almost overnight sprung up or intensified, to address the issues associated with death and calamity, whether in sermon or proclamation.
With somewhere between one third and one half of the population across England and Western Europe without respect to age, gender, or class distinction dying, such an element was bound to restructure social space. Such an impact can be seen in texts such as Boccaccio's Decameron and in the increasingly gruesome artistic depictions of Christ's crucifixion after the plague. This paper asserts that the plague's structuring of social space can be particularly well observed in religious practices. Read along cultural lines, the mock mass of the Pardoner's Tale assumes even greater relevance in light of late medieval celebrations of Corpus Christi or the mass in general as it also attempts to structure social space in the text.
By Chaucer's day the connection between the mass and death was already well established in the minds of noble and middle-class people, who were setting the number of masses to be said for the departed souls of their family members in their wills. Priests were increasingly becoming involved in these private celebrations of masses for the dead, often in London and larger urban areas, instead of rural parishes that had shrunk in size as a result of the Black Death. It seems likely there were more masses said for the dead than the living! Certainly, Chaucer in the Pardoner's Tale is not ridiculing a late medieval practice of piety, but he may well have in mind that celebrations of the mass were culturally blurry at best. That death is inscribed at deep levels in the tale suggests further re-appropriation of the cultural practice. To put it in a metaphorical way, just as Chaucer's Pardoner carries fake relics which are parodic and denatured emblems of genuine relics, he tells a tale where a mock mass is celebrated in a way that provides a parodic critique of typical religiosity. The Pardoner imaginatively asks us to enter his own world of blurred institutionalism—where life and death merge in intriguing ways. Seen in this way, Chaucer's Pardoner undermines even more institutional forms with his satirically seductive elements. He represents the cultural appropriations of what Derrida would call “giving the gift of death.”
Maria Cecilia Ruiz (University of San Diego), "Sancho IV’s Death in Juan Manuel’s Libro de las armas (1282-1348)
Sancho IV (1284-1295), Juan Manuel’s cousin, died in 1295, having reigned with controversy as king of Castilla for eleven years. Juan Manuel dedicates a third part of his triptych-like narrative, Libro de las armas (o Libro de las trez razones) to recalling the conversation he had with the king on his death bed, when he himself was twelve years old. In my paper I will emphasize three aspects of the remembered/recreated death bed scene: 1) the love, male bonding and mourning that Juan Manuel expresses; 2) the actual description of a death bed scene of a king (bedroom, illness, doctors, and rituals); 3) the picture that the dying king’s death bed scene paints of Catholic faith and fear of dying and the afterlife; 4) the purposeful manipulation of the memory of the king’s words on Juan Manuel’s part in order to fit his own political agenda.
Connie L. Scarborough, Texas Tech University: Finding Humor in Death: Libro de buen amor and Tragicomedia de Calisto y Melibea
Werner Schäfke (University of Freiburg i. Br., Germany, and Katharina Baier (GEI, Braunschweig, Germany): The Multifarious Undead in Icelandic sagas: Literary Strategies of Dealing with Sudden Death, Suicide—and Evil Pagan Sorcerers
(1) the theory outlined above does in fact fit the revenant episodes found in the Fornaldarsögur as well as an individual episode in one of the sagas of the Icelanders that is by common scholarly opinion regarded as following Fornaldarsögur in style, while
(2) the episodes in the sagas of the Icelanders have to be understood as more individual literary depictions of dealing with death and suicide.
At 1) The Fornaldarsögur have not yet been researched under the literary anthropological paradigm. However, revenants here tend to fulfill the same narrative function as trolls and giants do in this genre, and can thus be explained by the Midgard–Utgard theory developed for the sagas of the Icelanders.
At 2) The episodes about revenants in the sagas of the Icelanders cannot be subsumed under Midgard–Utgard model, since only a fraction of episodes featuring revenants deal with an intrusion of the chaotic outside. In the Sagas of the Icelanders, characters turn into revenants after
§ suffering ‘social death’ (Hasenfratz 2002), concluded by suicide or execution,
§ after suddenly dying from plagues (Kaiser 1998) or in accidents, and
§ after being executed as sorcerers.
Furthermore, the episodes in question show a range of interactions between the living and the undead that cannot easily be explained as a consistent ritualized strategy of dealing with restless dead. The key in understanding these episodes rather lies in understanding them as individual literary strategies of depicting society’s dealing with sudden death of family and household members or neighbors due to accidents, suicide or execution. Parallels will be shown to stylized suicide in a king’s saga, coping with the loss of a beloved one in chivalric sagas, and killing sorcerers in Viking sagas.
Dealing with revenants can thus rather be seen as an act of actively pursuing the transition of the deceased from the space of the living to the space of the dead, than defending the space of order from chaotic elements. The cultural model thus rather lends itself to be explained by an procedural model of translation (i.e. Lotman 2005) rather than a static model of boundaries as argued by Hastrup (1985, 1981) and Sayers (1996)
Scott L. Taylor (PCC, Tucson): “Pro Defunctis Exorare: The Community of the Living and the Dead in Jean Gerson’s Sermones de Omnibus Sanctis and de Mortuis”
In a prior article, “’L’aage plus fort ennaye’: Scientia mortis, Ars moriendi and Jean Gerson’s Advice to an Old Man,” I argued that contrary to Philippe Ariès, Paul Binski, and even Brian McGuire, at least Jean Gerson among late medieval clerics viewed dying not as a uniquely individual experience, but as a fundamentally communal preparation for the final embarkation of the Christian viator. This paper, also dealing with the Scientia mortis and the Ars moriendi, but more particularly with Gerson’s sermon material, will examine the chancellor’s views not of dying, but of death itself: what it is to die, the significance of death, the status of the dead, and why the living should pray for the departed and to what effect. While Ariès and LeGoff both see the introduction of Purgatory in the twelfth century as largely reinforcing the individual character of late medieval death and the climatic aspect of the death bed, what emerges from Gerson’s opera is a view of dying somewhere between the lifelong preparation of the De spiritualibus ascenionibus of Gerard Zerbolt of Zutphen and the popular late medieval Artes moriendi coupled with both an altruistic concern for the departed that Ariès asserts emerged only with the affectivity of eighteenth- and nineteenth century Romanticism and with renewal of the emphasis on the communion of the Church Triumphant, the Church Suffering and the Church Militant which Ariès finds characteristic of the ancient Gallican Mass or the Mozarabic liturgy but which Ariès argues largely disappeared with the Roman mass. The paper proceeds to argue that this conjunction of what some scholars would consider inconsistent and anachronistic elements is attributable to Gerson’s view of the primacy of Heaven rather than of Purgatory, a possibility which Le Goff himself conceded would alter the energizing and organizing force of the tripartite system as he had envisioned it, as well as to the chancellor’s insistence on the inviolate integrity of the Church and of the inviolable integrity of the individual personality.
David Tomíček (John Evangelista Purkyne University; Czech Republic): Death and Dying in Medieval Medical Literature
The theme of death is closely related to cultural history and especially to the medical/healing discourse or the tradition of a concrete epoch. Physicians usually do not write the works dedicated to death as such, they try to offer instructions how to put this inevitable reality off instead. Nevertheless, the theme of death and of the dying process is analyzed in their text. We can see it, for example, in case of prognostic treatises which described the signs of lethal sicknesses or even the coming death (so called Facies Hippocratica). Other examples of the medical perception of the decaying process and even of death are contemporary views on human physiology closely related to the microcosmos–macrocosmos theory. According to this theory, the world is getting older and also the human body is changing in negative ways; hence death is coming closer and closer in every new generation. The theme of death is also presented in the treatises about the healthy regime and plague epidemics. This paper deals with the way how those medical authors of these medieval and also early modern medical texts perceived and dealt with death.
Patricia Turning (Albright College, Reading, PA), “And Thus She Will Perish:” Gender, Jurisdiction, and the Execution of Women in Late Medieval France
By the time of Henry VIII in England, decapitation served as a convenient way to rid the monarchy of troublesome women like second wife Anne Boleyn and staunch Catholic Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury. Although the women’s noble status shielded their execution from public eyes, they lost their heads like any seditious male counterpart. In the late Middle Ages, however, historians have insisted that gender played a prominent role in determining how judicial systems executed the most dangerous female criminals. Because authorities considered women the ‘weaker sex,’ they allocated only particular death sentences appropriate for feminine modesty. Medieval executions always had an element of theatricality - even though the punishment may not have occurred regularly, the painstaking processions to the gallows and blood-shed of the prisoner left a lasting impression upon spectators, leading them to recall the particularity and individuality of each case. With a single beheading or hanging, an administration could make a statement about its power, and its intolerance for particular crimes that could endure for decades. Overwhelmingly, French officials sentenced women convicted of capital offenses to be either buried alive with the victim, or to be burned at the stake to destroy her body completely, and (as some historians suggest) to prevent her from returning as an evil spirit. But around the same time that Joan of Arc met her fate at the stake in northern France, the southern city of Toulouse erupted in a controversy over which jurisdiction (local or royal) had the right to decapitate publically a woman named Clare de Portet, guilty of murdering her husband in 1428. Not only was this condemnation extremely rare, but the fact that the official pronouncement also included the stipulation that her head and body be left on display went against medieval attitudes toward the female body. My presentation seeks to contextualize the details of the case in the broader historical framework of France during the Hundred Years War. But perhaps more pertinent to the theme of the conference, the records provide an opportunity to consider how gender complicated both the performance of death sentences (especially decapitation) for medieval jurisdictions, and the reception of that execution by an urban audience.
Christina Welch (University of Winchester, UK): “Brief life is vain, such glory has this end”: Exploring English Carved Cadaver Memorials, ca. 1425-1558
In this paper I will contextualize a sub-set of Northern European cadaver monuments of the latter late-medieval and early modern era, known as transi imagery. I will explore 37 English carved cadaver monuments (herein ECCMs) dating from between ca. 1425 to 1558; all bar one carved from a single piece of stone, all bar one memorialising high ranking clerics or male members of the wealthy land-owning classes, and all imaging a naked emaciated recently dead individual, often largely anatomically correct despite anatomisation being rare during this period of history. By examining contemporary vernacular theology, perceptions of purgatory, and understandings of the body post-mortem, my paper will support current scholarly writing that these cadaver memorials were pedagogical in nature, prompting prayers from the living to comfort the deceased in purgatory. However, I will controversially argue that ECCMs were also didactic providing a visual reminder to the living that purgatorial suffering was not just spiritual, but also physical during the stage that anthropologist Hertz has described as the ‘wet stage of death’; the stage before the corpse became fully skeletal.
By placing these memorials in their English context, I argue the effects of the Reformation on English death beliefs, and especially artistic interpretations of death become foregrounded, leading to discussions around vernacular belief in post-mortem sentience in lay and clerical individuals during the medieval and into the early-modern.
Thomas Willard (University of Arizona, Tucson): Some Representations of Mortality in Early English Drama
Elizabeth Chesney Zegura (The University of Arizona): MATERNAL DEATH AND PATRIARCHAL SUCCESSION IN RENAISSANCE FRANCE
Queen Claude of France, daughter of Louis XII and the first wife of François Ier, died in 1524 at the age of twenty-four. Although she was a frail woman with a hunched back who likely suffered from scoliosis, she had given birth to seven children in less than eight years— beginning with Princess Louise in 1515, when Claude was not yet sixteen, and ending with Margaret of France in 1523. Little more than a year later, the queen herself would be dead , although not technically from childbirth in its narrowest sense, which the World Health Organization today defines as “the death of a woman while pregnant or within forty-two days of termination of pregnancy.” Nevertheless, there is little doubt that Claude’s numerous pregnancies, undertaken for the glory of France and the House of Valois’s patriarchal succession, contributed to her early death.
Indeed, the fact that Claude was not pregnant in the summer of 1524, when she succumbed to a brief illness and died, probably relates more to François’s absence for military matters than to concerns about her health and excessive childbearing: for notwithstanding his numerous mistresses, the king is reputed to have slept with his young queen every night when matters of state and war did not separate them. In 1524, however, François was already deeply embroiled in his ill-fated Italian campaign, which would result in his defeat at Pavia (1525) and subsequent imprisonment in Spain until 1526. During this interim, Claude’s embalmed body remained at Blois, where her posthumous contributions to French nationhood reputedly included miracles among the faithful who venerated her. Unlike Rabelais’s Gargantua, who opted to carouse at home and celebrate his son’s birth rather than attend his wife’s funeral, however, the King of France would eventually mourn his consort’s loss in a ceremonial procession, mass, and burial in early November, 1526, following his release from captivity—more than two years after she had died. In death, more than in life, Claude became an icon of French motherhood.
In this paper, I propose to use the model of maternal mortality and sacrifice emblematized by Queen Claude as a springboard for examining the mother’s death in two slightly later literary texts: that of Badebec, Gargantua’s wife, in Chapter 3 of Rabelais’s Pantagruel; and that of the new mother in nouvelle 23 of Marguerite de Navarre’s Heptaméron, whose rape by an impious Cordelier precipitates her own suicide, the deaths of her son and husband, the indictment of her own brother for murder, and the collapse of her family. While examining the condition of women, and the incidence of and attitudes toward maternal mortality, in early modern France, I will also explore the ambivalent relationship between life and death in the icon of the dying mother, gendered responses to maternal mortality and motherhood in the above texts, and the figurative resonances of matriarchal death within the context of France’s patriarcal culture, patrilineal succession, and nation-building efforts.