Najlaa Aldeeb, Swansea University, Wales, UK, and Batterjee Medical College, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia: The Miracle of Solomon’s Throne: A Comparative Study of Al-Thaʿlabi’s Qiṣaṣ al-Anbiyāʾ and the City of Brass
Solomon’s wandering throne lived beyond the time of the king himself, as the story circulated in different geographical areas for several centuries. Solomon could command the wind and communicate with birds and demons; his throne, a sculpted design showing seventy golden seats, followed him wherever he went. These miracles resonated from the sixth to the thirteenth centuries, constituting a common cultural legacy, shared by the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic societies (Iafrate, 2015). Information about Solomon’s miracles was not only found in religious books, but also gathered over time in a series of commentaries, anthologies, folktales, and erudite traditions. In this paper, I demonstrate that the elements of Solomon’s throne (the ivory and golden seat with a round back, surrounded by lions and located on a six-step platform) could be found in contexts very far from each other. Thus, I apply a historical approach to explore the common didactic morals of the miracle of Solomon’s throne in the compilations of Al-Thaʿlabi’s Qiṣaṣ al-Anbiyāʾ (The Lives of the Prophets), which was translated by William M. Brinner (2002), and The City of Brass in the collection of the Arabian Nights. Despite the different time and space of these two accounts, I found that Solomon’s throne in both of them was associated with fertility and justice.
Luis A. Anchondo, Southeast New Mexico College, Carlsbad, NM: Miracles and Faith in Cervantes’s Don Quijote
The article “El cantico espiritual de San Juan de la Cruz, una de las influencias no estudiadas de El hingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha” presents evidence that Cervantes constructed his most famous character, Don Quijote de la Mancha, based on Saint John of the Cross’s mystical experience. Cervantes’s novel could thus be read as an allegory of Saint John of the Cross’s voyage from the moment his soul leaves his body until it reaches God.
Therefore, the role of faith is the most important element of Cervantes’s novel since it is what motivates Don Quijote to “go out from his house” in order to search for God which in the novel is represented by a woman, Dulcinea del Toboso. Cervantes transferred Saint John of the Cross’s experience from a theological perspective into the field of chivalry and courtly love humanizing with it the mystical experience of the Saint.
Since the mystical experience of Saint John of the Cross is based on faith, we can say that Cervantes’s novel is about the relationship between faith and God presenting the idea that the closest you are to reaching God, the more faith you lose, something that is present through the works of Saint John of the Cross. This idea contradicts the popular belief that to reach God means to strengthen one’s faith in him, but according to the mystical experience of the Saint it is the opposite.
My paper goes deeply into how Cervantes presents this phenomenon making a parallel with the historical period of Cervantes in a decadent 17th-century Spain that has lost all faith in itself. This after having “reached God” in the 16th century by being the most powerful empire of the world.
Carlee Arnett, University of California, Davis: Conceptual Blend: The Horse as Supernatural Figure in Old Icelandic Sagas
One of the features of higher order thinking is the ability to hold different thoughts in the mind at the same time (Turner, 2014). When considering the historical development of the horse from its earliest incarnation to its modern-day form, a human understands that each drawing of the animal represents a moment in time. A human does not need to be alive for the entire time period to understand the phenomenon of change or that the drawings are representative of this change and not an actual horse. Given the human ability to blend overlapping and divergent thoughts in their mind, it should come as no surprise that medieval Icelanders viewed the horse as both a supernatural being and a domestic animal. Both archeological remains and evidence from the Icelandic sagas show that horses were seen as deities in some areas and as supernatural beings as transportation for the gods. In addition, in Hranfnkel’s saga, the horse is able to communicate certain events to its owner in a way that can be viewed as other-worldly. In spite of horses having mythical qualities, no medieval Icelander was confused that his horse in the barn might behave in a supernatural way. To state this more generally, a medieval Icelander does not conflate or confuse the spiritual world with the observable world. This paper uses evidence from the Icelandic sagas to show that horses in the medieval Icelandic mind exist on two planes, the supernatural and the observable and this dual existence does not lead to conflict in society or in the mind.
Turner, Mark. 2014. The Origin of Ideas: Blending, Creativity, and the Human Spark. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Jane Beal, La Verne University, CA: The Vision, the Saint, and the Lamb: Miraculous Revelation in the Middle English Pearl
The exquisitely beautiful, fourteenth-century, Middle English dream vision called Pearl is full of miraculous revelation. The genre of the poem is the reader’s first indication that the poem will be about the miraculous. As a dream vision, Pearl draws on both biblical and classical antecedents, but particularly on medieval conventions of amour courtois and on the imagery of the Apocalypse of St. John. When the poem’s Dreamer meets a beautiful woman, clothed in white, wearing a golden crown with a large, luminous “wonder perle” (l. 221) in the midst of her breast and begins conversing with her in his dream, the reader perceives that he has met a saint within the spiritual otherworld of the dream-vision. When viewed as a saint, the Pearl-Maiden bears a striking resemblance to the saints described in the Apocalypse, and when listened to as a saint, she clearly has a miraculous, indeed, prophetic voice that reveals truth. Her many long speeches in response to the Dreamer’s questions echo both biblical prophecy and the parables of Jesus himself. At one point in their dialogue, the Maiden describes the Crucifixion of Jesus, a powerful audition that prepares the Dreamer for the next stage of his dream: a vision of the New Jerusalem and, in the midst of the heavenly city, a vision of the Lamb Who Was Slain (Rev. 5:9). The apparitio of Jesus in the form of the Lamb of God in the poem can be compared to a miraculous icon: an open window to heaven. Through it, the Dreamer sees the holy. The miraculous revelation of Pearl takes the Dreamer on a spiritual pilgrimage that leads to Jesus, so that, upon awakening, he realizes his own inner transformation and invites the reader to participate in it with him through the miracle of the Eucharist, the bread and wine transubstantiated in the hands of a priest, each day.
Chiara Benati, University of Genoa, Italy, and Marialuisa Caparrini, University of Ferrara, Italy: Where Has God Gone in the Vernacular Renderings of Lanfranc’s Chirurgia magna?
From the fourteenth century onward, Latin surgical treatises were increasingly translated into vernacular languages. This growing interest in the translation of surgical texts addressed the needs of surgeons who lacked academic training but desired to learn the techniques and the remedies of the “masters” of the past. This primarily practical approach to surgery is typically reflected in the structure of the vernacular renderings of surgical works, which tend to abbreviate the Latin original by omitting all the parts considered scarcely useful in everyday-surgical practice (e.g., references to medical authorities, long discursive passages, theoretical disputes).
A common feature of large Latin surgical (and, in general, medical) treatises was the presence of an initial dedication to God, in which the author invoked the divine help to be able to complete his writing endeavor, and of an explicit thanking God for allowing the accomplishment of this work. Moreover, additional invocations to God and references to faith could be inserted in other parts the text. In this paper, the English and German vernacular renderings of Lanfranc of Milan’s Chirurgia magna will be taken into consideration and contrasted with their source with respect to their treatment of the “religious” passages included in the Latin original, in order to outline the relationship between faith and vernacular surgery in the Late Middle Ages.
Carlo Alessandro Bonifacio, Adam Mickiewicz University – Poznań (Poland): Discerning the Spirit, Discerning the Body: Divine Inspiration, Demonic Deceiving, and Illness in the Liber of Angela of Foligno and in the Free Spirit Movement
During the 13th and 14th century, mystical and ecstatic experiences, especially those of women, often caused heated debates: the line between divine inspiration, demonic deceiving and illness was indeed deemed to be thin. This paper aims to analyze the relationship between these categories, taking into particular consideration Angela of Foligno’s (ca. 1248-1309) spiritual journey, as reported in her Liber, mainly in its first section, called Memoriale, as well as the visionary experiences of other laywomen, usually labelled as members of the Free Spirit Movement. Furthermore, these concepts will be considered both in the broader framework of medical and theological literature of 13th and 14th century – taking into account works such as Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae and Arnau of Villanova’s medical oeuvres –, and in the light
of recent scholarly interpretations, which tends to pathologize mystical phenomena. The Liber – and mystical literature in general – ought to be read not only through the lens of today’s psychology, but also in the light of contemporary writings and interpretative categories, as Laura Kalas-Williams pointed out for The Book of Margery Kempe.
Albrecht Classen, The University of Arizona: Miracle Accounts as Teaching Aids and Learning Tools: Caesarius of Heisterbach’s Dialogus Miraculorum
Undoubtedly, Caesarius’s collection of miracle stories reflect squarely medieval mentality, a very devout mindset, fearing God and the devil, and believing strongly in the mediating power of the Virgin Mary and the many saints. We make it too easy for us, however, when we read these stories simply as religious messages. Behind the religious discourse, we can recognize a potent pedagogical project to get the young novices involved in the monastic discourse, to offer insights into the transcendence of all life, and to reflect on many ordinary aspects of human life. This paper is not dismissing the strongly Catholic worldview expressed here, but the careful reading across the entire body of tales can reveal, as was Caesarius’s primary purpose, how the narrative discourse could be utilized for universal didactic purposes.,
Fidel Fajardo-Acosta, Creighton University, NE: Miracle of Miracles: Improbable Choices and Impossible Outcomes in Dante’s Paradiso
Living as we do – in a world of greed and arrogance, disenchantment and nihilism, violence and thievery, a planet where masses of zombies and thugs inexorably march toward an entirely predictable apocalypse of famine, disease, war, and death – Dante had either the folly or the genius of affirming his faith in miracles and, most miraculous of all, the salvation of the meek and the humble, at the upcoming end of the world. Interrogated by St. Peter on the subject of faith, in Canto 24 of Paradiso, Dante specifies that “fede è sustanza di cose sperate / e argomento de le non parventi” (24.64–65; faith is the substance of that for which we hope, and the explanation of what cannot be seen). “Sola credenza” (24.73; faith/belief alone), Dante argues, is the evidence of what cannot be confirmed through the senses and the foundation of “l’alta spene” (24.74; the highest hope, i.e. hope of salvation/eternal life). Such faith/belief in turn derives from the stories found in the scriptures, “in su le vecchie e ’n su le nuove cuoia” (24.93; in the old and in the new parchment). When asked why he believes the scriptures to be the word of God, Dante states that it is due to their describing miraculous events that are contrary to the laws of nature: “E io: ‘La prova che ’l ver mi dischiude, / son l’opere seguite, a che natura / non scalda ferro mai né batte incude” (24.100–102; the proof that unveils the truth to me is that of the deeds described for which nature does not heat an iron or beat an anvil). When pushed to explain why he believes the miracles described in the Bible to be real, Dante asserts that, “Se ’l mondo si rivolse al cristianesmo, / … sanza miracoli, quest’ uno / è tal, che li altri non sono il centesmo” (24.106–108; if the world turned to Christianity, … without miracles, that is such [a miracle] that the other [miracles] are not a hundredth part of it). The acceptance of Christianity, then, in the absence of any violation of the laws of nature, is, according to Dante, the miracle a hundred times more wondrous than any supernatural event described in the scriptures. As accepting Christianity is in itself not a supernatural event, Dante seems to be suggesting that the free will to accept and faithfully live according to Christian values is the highest of miracles and yet not the result of miracles. That event, in turn, makes real, at least for Dante, the miracles described in scripture, i.e., the acceptance of Christianity is the condition of possibility for the transcendence of the laws of nature which is the apparent essence of miracles. While it is very questionable whether any of his followers, St. Peter included, ever understood or followed the teachings of Jesus Christ, Jesus himself was a man of flesh and blood who made the free-will choice to live by the words he preached, i.e., in a way which is quite the opposite of what we call human nature. The improbability of such a thing happening but actually happening opens the door, in Dante’s view, to believing in actual miracles, which are not, as they would seem, violations of the laws of nature but only extraordinarily rare occurrences that can come about only after the prior occurrence of a highly unlikely choice made by a living being endowed with free will. Jesus made the choice and was saved and lives forever, according to scripture. The choice he made is a historical event. Its consequences, however, are transcendental, impossible in the world that we inhabit and have created through our own predictable choices and similarly predictable outcomes.
Quan Gan, The University of Texas at Austin, TX: Two Modes of Episcopal Authority and an Early Capetian Synthesis: Miracles in Reims, Sens, and the Royal Court
In this paper, I argue that miracle accounts and their manuscript production from the tenth and eleventh centuries provide a unique lens on royal power, episcopal authority, and their collaboration and competition over the control of the cult of relics and saints. They make clear two modes of episcopal authority as exemplified by Sens and Reims. Sens connected royal and episcopal authority by elaborating on the miracles taking place during royal veneration of their founding bishop’s relic, but Reims used miracle accounts to control monastic liturgy without reference to the kings. Accordingly, Sens miracle accounts were used in manuscripts that juxtapose the deeds of Frankish kings and powerful saints (e.g., Auxerre 198 and BnF Pairs lat 5354), but saints celebrated in Reims miracle accounts inspired the content of their monastic liturgical manuscripts (eg Reims 346).
In addition, I argue that Helgaud’s biography of Robert the Pious (r. 996-1031) reflects the early Capetian synthesis of the two modes of episcopal authority. In this biography, Robert embodied saintly virtues and performed miracles just like a saint – in a style closely resembling that of Sens’ miracle accounts. This text also used liturgical language liberally and described the king’s love of and frequent participation in liturgy, after mentioning the king was educated in the school of Reims. In conclusion, miracle accounts were a matter of high politics for the early Capetians. Miracles were particularly helpful to connect powers which were not yet institutionalized. Royal courtiers and clergy in Reims and Sens channelled saints’ timeless power to improve their control over strategic places and foster connections.
William Mahan, Northern Arizona University: “Miraculous Light” – Divine Omens and the Human Mind in the Medieval and Early Modern World
Until the Age of Enlightenment, inexplicable natural phenomena such as St. Elmo’s fire were considered to be miracles and to be signs from God or other deities. As early as antiquity, Julius Caesar, Pliny the Elder, and Xenophanes of Colophon alluded to this particular phenomenon.
While in fact a luminous plasma is created by a corona discharge from any natural or artificial rod-like object in an atmospheric or electric field, the human mind comprehended such events primarily as miracles. The phenomenon was observed during the infamous voyage of Ferdinand de Magellan and recorded by Antonio Pigafetta on this voyage. The crew witnessed this act of God several times during the voyage, and always considered it to be a sign from God or the saints that they would survive the ordeal at hand. Magellan’s voyage influenced Shakespeare’s The Tempest – not only do the disingenuous descriptions of indigenous peoples encountered influence the character of Caliban, but also the storm itself is created by the spirit Ariel at Prospero’s bidding. Portuguese sailors called it the Porto Sancto, or holy body.
The medieval and early modern understanding of certain natural phenomena as miracles evokes Theory of the Mind. Rather than considering the possibility that the phenomenon is a complex weather phenomenon, the humans of the Middle Ages thought in such a way that the event would be a signal that their actions are divinely ordained. Such is the case in the accounts from the voyages of Magellan and Vasco de Gama, and descriptions by Robert Burton and John Davis follow suit. This was not only the case in Europe, but also in other parts of the world with a written history. For example, Zheng He (15th c) of the Ming dynasty and his associates describe the “miraculous light” as a divine omen from the goddess Tianfei.
The other understanding at the time would be the elemental approach, as with Paracelsus. Such alchemists were forerunners to modern science and medicine but were also influenced by pagan mythology. Salamanders, or fire manifestations, are the expression of will, power, intensity, and ardor (spiritual and erotic). Such interpretations of this “miracle” – in which case, it is not a miracle at all, but a symbolic being encompassing the structures of nature – were not the norm at the time, but by the mid-1700s, people returned to understanding of nature as nature thanks to a piqued interest in scientific discovery. This paper will consider such divine omens of the Middle Ages and Early Modern periods from the perspective of Theory of the Mind (cf. Simon Baron Cohen, Daniel Dennett, an intersection of social neuroscience and philosophy).
Anita Obermeier, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque: The Miracle of the Immaculate Conception in the Middle English Joseph of Arimathie and Osbern Bokenham’s “St. Anne’s Legend”
The anonymous Middle English alliterative poem, Joseph of Arimathie, written in 1350, has received only minimal critical attention. This could possibly be attributed to the fact that the French versions of the Grail story, Robert de Boron’s and the Vulgate Cycle, are more famous and approachable. Joseph of Arimathie, however, contains a discussion of the miracle of the immaculate conception of Jesus while Augustinian monk Osbern Bokenham’s “St. Anne’s Legend” (ca. 1450) is central to the immaculate conception of Mary. The veneration of Anne flourished especially in the fifteenth and sixteenth century, to the point where some critics complain that Anne has exceeded Mary in popularity. Her meteoric rise in those two centuries may be tied to the immaculist controversy. The feast of the conception of Mary is first evident in eleventh-century England, mostly because of the devotion of monks of Winchester. In England, the feast if St. Anne was established in 1130. For the next two hundred years, a theological controversy raged about the immaculate conception. The Joseph of Arimathie poem introduces the Grail matter into England over a hundred years before Malory. This paper compares the theological and medical discussions encapsulated in the two literary works in the attempt to tease out the scientific medical theories—Aristotelian or Galenic—that underlie the miracles in these texts.
Doaa Omran, Dept. of English, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque: Fertility Miracles: A Comparative Study of Sayyidah Nafisah and Christian Women Saints
Medieval literature is replete with Western and Eastern Women saints and holy figures who bestowed their miracles on infertile women. They helped them conceive even under impossible situations. One such example from the Islamic tradition is Sayyidah (lady) Nafisah bint al-Hasan ibn Muhammed (762-824). This great-granddaughter of the Prophet was known for her karamāt (miracles/bounties) in helping women get pregnant. Nafisah bint al-Hasan’s miracles continue; people still visit her eponymous mosque and shrine in Cairo. She was born in Iraq and fled to Egypt, where she held a majlis (a knowledge circle) explaining the hadith to an audience of both women and men. According to medieval Arabic sources, she performed a hundred and fifty miracles. One such miracle is about how she saved the Nile from running dry. Her prayers helped the water level to rise. Similarly, it is believed that she can pray for infertile women to get pregnant. Comparable examples in European and Christian traditions also exist. For example, St. Margaret, Elizabeth of Hungary, and Saint Brigid were patron saints of childbirth. The Golden Legend by Jacobus de Voragine is also an analogous example. This paper is an attempt to understand medieval miracles from a similar global lens. Sayyidah Nafisa’s fertility miracles are comparable with her Western sisters through a spiritual ecofeminist fertility lens.
Emanuele Piazza, Department of Educational Sciences – University of Catania: FALSE MIRACLES, FALSE DOCTORS AND THE POTENTIA OF SAINTS IN THE GAUL OF GREGORY OF TOURS
The constant efforts of the Church in the early Middle Ages to curb the persistence of pagan practices are well illustrated by the pastoral action of Gregory, bishop of Tours from 573 to 594. In particular, the paper aims to examine the extent to which Gregory, both in the Libri Historiarum and in the Libri octo miraculorum, emphasized the fundamental role of the saints and their relics in curing the numerous diseases that afflicted the faithful, and the vigilance on the part of the clergy in preventing the people from giving credence to impostors who promised miraculous medical remedies. Starting from the assumption that only the saints, and Martin of Tours in particular, could cure the sickness of the body and above all of the soul, the Gallic bishop points out in his writings the fallacy of those pseduo-prophets and astrologers who deceived the rusticitas of the Gallic population, that is to say the most ignorant and naive, with their abominable necromantic arts. The only legitimate spiritual powers were those invoked by the viri Dei to cure the sick, and among these we shall look more closely at the paralytics, whose stories allow us to understand the extent to which recourse to the thaumaturgical potentia of the saints could be an effective means (a sort of medical “science”) not only of defeating illness, but also of giving the faithful an example of how to combat the charlatans who promised false miracles.
Daniel F. Pigg,The University of Tennessee at Martin: Margery Kempe and Miracles: Guarding Understanding and Interpretation of Experience
Modern readers of the Book of Margery Kempe as well as at least one reader from the next century after its fifteenth-century writing as noted by Karma Lockrie’s Margery Kempe and Translations of the Flesh have struggled to understand the mysterious world of Margery Kempe. How much of this material should be interpreted as real? How much of the narrative is a product of the attempt to contextual Kempe’s experience within those of the medieval lives of saints? How do we understand the skepticism of at least one of her “scribes” at times about the presentation of miraculous experiences? These are not the questions an historian can answer, but these are the questions of religious studies and literary scholars who seek to understand the events within the larger medieval context of miracles.
Readers of the Book of Margery Kempe meet such encounters that are a part of her own visionary experience that transport her to the first-century CE Crucifixion or which allow her to have conversations with figures from the past. Does the Host flutter in the priest’s hands at the time of consecration or not? At the same time, readers are confronted with her ability to pray and to unlock the ability of a priest/scribe to translate her document. It would be easy to read Kempe’s experience as the writer’s attempt to create for her an analogous medieval saints’ life suitable for a middle-class woman connected with the ruling structure of King’s Lynn. At the same time, there are experiences noted that call into question her sincerity and faith experience by those same scribes who are foundational to her developing narrative that always seems to be growing even as it is being presented to the reader. In this sense, the reader gets caught up in the book’s own narrative logic that questions. Clearly, some of the evidence will not stand up to a rigid scrutiny of the miraculous as it seems to parallel other saints’ lives. At the same time, however, there are experiences here that would genuinely fall within the domain of events beyond the ability to critique them as genuine or not.
As the narrative progresses, the miraculous events of Book One give way to ordinary and everyday events which end Book One and which populate the experience of Book Two. Prayer for Kempe may create the zone for the miraculous, and as such, the experience ultimately locates the miraculous elements. In one sense, it seems rather preposterous to make a modern decision on whether or not Kempe is experiencing the world of the miraculous. That the text itself contains elements of doubt at certain points, however, serves to curb some of excesses and at the same time to show the ordinary, everyday true miracle that Margery Kempe really is. Narrative itself makes the miraculous possible as well as checking its excesses.
Connie L. Scarborough, Professor Emerita, Texas Tech University: The Ultimate Miracle: Revival of the Dead
Resurrection and eternal life are central doctrines of the Christian faith and Mary’s role in God’s plan for salvation was a firmly established tenet of the medieval Church. Christ’s resurrection of Lazarus as related in Chapter eleven of the Gospel of St. John prefigures His own resurrection and points to the promise of the heavenly reward it portends for the Christian believer. Revivals of those who have died in hagiographic works often follow the same pattern as the Lazarus narrative of New Testament. A saint is called upon when someone has recently died, he/she prays over the body, and the deceased person is restored to life. In the case of Marian miracle narratives, the Virgin’s power to revive the dead is second only to her ability to rescue the faithful from harrowing circumstances, injury, or disease. That her protective grace extends even to the deceased is a repeating theme in Alfonso X’s Cantigas de Santa Maria. Of the collection’s some 400 songs relating miracles performed by Holy Mary, 26 involve the Virgin resurrecting the dead (in two cases, moreover, animals, instead of huans, are brought back to life).
The Virgin Mary’s ability to resurrect the dead not only establishes her preeminence in the salvation narrative but also the incredible power she wields in the lives of the faithful. This paper will analyze select narratives from the Cantigas that deal with revival of the dead from the standpoint of the heightened emphasis on Marian devotion in the 13th century as well as reflect on how these tales imitate or depart from the pattern established by the Biblical Lazarus narrative.
Nada Tayem: Indiana University of Pennsylvania: “The Adventures of Bulukiya” and “The Adventures of Sinbad”: When Miraculous Meet the Scientific in Medieval Arabic Folktales
One Thousand and One Nights explores multiple miraculous events. One Thousand and One Nights pushes the boundaries of what is possible in our reality, linking it with the scientific and the spectacular. A case in point is “The Adventures of Bulukiya” and “The Adventures of Sinbad.” In both tales, the protagonist witnesses the miraculous and science fiction when they leave their hometowns. Bulukiya undertakes a quest to locate the planet of immortality. This adventure leads him on a maritime expedition, a pilgrimage to the Garden of Eden, to Jahannam (hell), and a cosmic investigation of realms that are considerably more expensive than his own. “The Adventures of Bulukiya” prefigures parts of galactic science fiction. During his expedition, Bulukiya sees many communities of “jinns.” In “The Adventures of Sinbad,” the eponymous protagonist experiences miraculous events during his seven voyages. Having exhausted the inheritance bestowed upon him by his father, Sinbad embarks on a maritime journey to restore his wealth. In his first voyage, for example, he disembarks upon what initially appears to be an island but is later revealed to be an enormous whale inhabited by trees since its early years. This paper explores how these narratives depict miracles and futuristic possibilities that explore the potential of human progress and imagination. These fantastical journeys serve as a means to convey early aspects of philosophical posthumanist and sci-fi narratives, making it a unique blend of spectacular and medieval Arabic wisdom.
David Tomíček, John Evangelista Purkyně University in Ústí nad Labem, Czech Republic: Natural Wonders and Therapeutic Application of Their Effects in Bohemian Sources of the Late Middle Ages and Early Modern Period
Natural substances whose effects were considered extraordinary were part of the therapeutic arsenal of medieval and early modern medicine. These were often plants, animal body parts, or precious stones of exotic origin. Their wondrous effects were described in Latin medical writings, but their knowledge in the late Middle Ages also penetrated into less exclusive milieus, as shown by short Czech-language treatises on the power of snake skin, vulture body parts, or oak mistletoe. Therapeutic approaches using the wonderful efficacy of these natural substances were not always entirely conventional, as shown, for example, by the form of application in the amulet or the sacralization of the healing power of a natural substance through a religious ritual. In my paper, I will focus on the following issues: What discursive devices are used to represent the wondrous substances in vernacular sources (books about healthy diet, herbals, manuscript compendia of receipts etc.) and what narratives document their extraordinary effects? What therapeutic forms of application are used to produce these effects? And finally, what arguments were used to support the conviction that these practices were effective?
Warren Tormey, English Department, Middle Tennessee State University: “Langland’s Piers Plowman: Everyday Realities, Transcendent Visions”
With its focus on clerikly experience and ecclesiastical structure, William Langland’s Piers Plowman reflects the formal educational training and practical orientations of its author. Invoking frequent Latin phrases and quotes from Scripture, the work is also deeply engaged with matters relating to church organization and Christian doctrine. Within that connection and across its three principal iterations, Langland attempts to comprehend the connections between the tangible realities of formal education and practical ecclesiastical structure and the abstractions of faith, enlightenment, and salvation. Specific allegorical figures stand at that nexus of those practical and intangible elements, and a close examination of these will reveal how Langland understands the limits of education as faith practices and its multiple limits and perversions. This essay will consider the roles served by allegorical figures who stand at that nexus of the worldly and the divine: firstly, Trajan, the “virtuous pagan” whose presumed salvation is held up as an example of Godly prescience; next, Hawkin, the “active man,” whose engagement with the world is reconciled with his quest for salvation; and finally, Anima, or conscience, the figure who mediates between practical and spiritual realms. With the roles of these three significant figures explored and clarified, my essay will then conclude with some consideration of how Langland’s work articulates a vision of faith that is simultaneously pragmatic and aspirational, grounded in the concrete world of ecclesiastical structure but also cognizant that divine revelations and the experience of spiritual transcendence are accessible not just to well-trained clergy and clerks, but also to everyday individuals.
Birgit Wiedl, Institute for Jewish History in Austria, St. Pölten, Austria: New Believers, Catalysts, and Perpetrators: the Role(s) of Jews in Christian Miracle Legends
Jews play an important role in many medieval stories and legends. In the early and high medieval legends about miraculous hosts, Jews mistreat the host, mostly out of curiosity or as a challenge to Christ to show his power. The ensuing miracles are what make the Jews desire baptism: their enlightenment to the true faith is in fact the central miracle. In the sense of Jeremy Cohen’s “hermeneutical Jew,” they serve as a foil for “good” Christian behavior. This factor – that the Jews must essentially remain alive in order to bear witness to the miracles – is lost with the changes in the narrative(s) from the 12th century onwards. Both the legends of host desecration and the (newly emerging) accusations of ritual murder no longer interpret the Jewish protagonists as individuals, but merely as a collective instrument whose sole function was to enable the host/body to demonstrate its sanctity by performing miracles after having been mistreated by them. Their survival is therefore no longer required, their fate is sealed from the beginning. While these legends continued to exist – in increasingly vicious narratives – in countries with no Jewish population (for example in Chaucer’s “Prioress’s Tale”), the tales that spread in the late Middle Ages had an immediate impact on the “Jews in the world” (Anthony Bale): they are some of the main catalysts for the murder and persecution of the Jewish population in the German-speaking lands.
Thomas Willard, The University of Arizona: The Status of Alchemy and Alchemical Gold in Seventeenth-Century Europe
As Europe moved from its medieval past toward its modern future, there was a strange flurry of alchemical publication between the years 1602 and 1702, when the largest collections of alchemical texts were produced. This paper will survey the views of alchemy’s role in religion, science, and society with a concentration on the members of two distinct groups: the Rosicrucian authors and their adversaries in Germany between 1600 and 1621 and the members of the Royal Society of London between 1660 and 1691, with some attention to transitional figures at mid-century. Inevitably, the seekers of the Philosophers’ Stone turned back to the legacy of the Middle Ages in chemistry as much as they and others did in religion and politics. Some of the central figures led more conflicted lives than one might suppose.
Asmaa Ahmed Youssef Etman, Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Higher Institute of Languages, Egypt: Religious Miracles and The Historical and Philosophical Experience of Transcendence in Abū’l-ʿAlāʾ al-Maʿarrī’s The Epistle of Forgiveness (Risālat al-Ghufrān) (1033 C.E.)
Religious miracles of resurrection, ascendence to heaven, al-miʿrāj, and going to paradise or hell are familiar topics in Arab-Islamic culture due to the belief in their truthfulness since their main sources are the Qur’an and Sunnah. Sarcastically, Abū al-ʿAlāʾ al-Maʿarrī (973, Maʿarrat al-Nuʿman, 1057 C.E.), a controversial and pessimistic rationalist, wrote The Epistle of Forgiveness (Risālat al-Ghufrān) (1033 C.E.), a satirical work of Arabic poetry in which he replies to a letter sent to him by the traditionalist and grammarian, ʿAlī ibn Manṣūr al-Ḥalabī, known as Ibn al-Qāriḥ. The Epistle of Forgiveness narrates Ibn al-Qāriḥ’s story of having ascended to heaven and met some blessed prophets, poets, and angels in paradise and tormented ones in hell. The Epistle of Forgiveness is a controversial text. By deconstructing the religious miracles, this paper discusses three literary, philosophical, and historical issues. The literary issue focuses on al-Maʿarrī’s rejection of poetic plagiarism and reciting poetry for money through conversations with blessed poets in paradise and tormented ones in hell. The philosophical issue presents the influence of Greek philosophy on al-Maʿarrī’s interpretation of religious miracles. The text of forgiveness violates the boundaries of religion to some extent and adopts the standards of divine philosophy, which prefers the mind more than religion to find out the essence of God and the universe. Although al-Maʿarrī follows a skeptical and rational approach and attacks some religious practices and beliefs like ascending to heaven (al-miʿrāj), he glorifies the Creator and sees the universe as one of God’s manifestations. This paper also discusses the impact of historical events on The Epistle of Forgiveness during the Abbasid period. Al-Maʿarrī’s life passed through three states: the Hamdanid state, the Fatimid state, and the Daylam state. The appearance of some historical figures either in paradise or hell reflects al-Maʿarrī’s rejection of political conflicts and divisions and support for social justice. In short, this paper challenges naive modern perspectives of religious miracles, which defamiliarize what is known in a different, strange, and enjoyable way.