Abstracts: Symposium 2023

For a contact, please use my email: aclassen@arizona.edu

Nicole Archambeau, Colorado State University: Humans Serving Nature: Bee Products and Beekeeping in Piero de Crescenzi’s Ruralia Commoda

Bees appear in diverse religious and natural philosophic texts and were highly respected in medieval culture as hardworking producers of honey and wax. While honey and wax were important agricultural products, they a so had a special place in medieval religious culture. The famous depiction of bees in the Exultet Rolls produced in Italy between the 10th and 12th centuries, for example, celebrates bees’ production of the substance from which the Easter candle was made. Beeswax was considered especially pure because it was believed to be made by beings that reproduced without sexual intercourse. In this way it was a product that could represent Christ’s body in the well-known understanding of candles as standing for Christ’s body (wax), soul (wick), and divine nature (flame).

Beekeeping and collecting bee products feature in Piero de Crescenzi’s Ruralia Commoda, a 12-book farming and animal husbandry text written in Bologna in the early 14th century. The practices and techniques that Crescenzi recommends reflect the special status of bee products. In my paper, I will show that rather than simply highlighting bee products and the easiest ways to get them, the bee-centric chapters of Book 9 on animal husbandry explore bees’ desires and actions, depicting them as fierce, noble creatures. These chapters urged keepers to construct special environments for bees, including quasi-wild spaces of flowing water, reeds, and stones. Crescenzi also instructed farm managers to control the moral and sexual behavior of beekeepers, so that the humans caring for the bees did not offend and thereby drive the bees away.

Crescenzi’s chapters on bee husbandry were a microcosm of a correct human relationship to the natural world. The rewards were great for beekeepers who served the bees. The chapters extoll the virtues of observant and dutiful beekeepers and Crescenzi respects the knowledge of those keepers. But disaster waited for slovenly keepers who served their own convenience, including the death of bees from predators or the escape of bees, which, as semi-wild creatures, could leave if treated poorly.

Fabian Alfie, University of Arizona: “A New Flood Was Released from the Heavens”: The Literary Responses to the Disaster of 1333

On 1 November 1333, the Arno flooded, washing away bridges and dikes, and killing thousands in the city of Florence.  The chronicler Giovanni Villani (1275-1348) provides a detailed description of the flood (Nuova cronica, book 12, chapters 1-4), and he mentions that in its aftermath a debate raged: was the disaster due to natural causes, such as astrological influences, or was it instead the result of Divine Punishment?  In addition to philosophers and theologians, several poets wrote about the flood.  Antonio Pucci (1310-1388) dedicates two lengthy works to it, offering additional details about the devastation unattested elsewhere.  Adriano de’ Rossi (d. ca. 1400) discusses the flood in three sonnets, describing the search for the statue of Mars, which had stood on one of Florence’s bridges but was swept away by the water.  Adriano also asserts that God is punishing Florence for its sins, seemingly taking a side in the cultural debate about its causes.  Conversely, the Perugian poet Marino Ceccoli (d. ca. 1369) described the flood as the result of astrological influences.  In other words, the poets of the age were engaged in the cultural debate about the flood, taking different sides to explain the calamity.

Although the flood of 1333 is overshadowed by the far greater catastrophe of the fourteenth century, the Black Death, it is nevertheless an important event.  Climate historians have described how at the end of the thirteenth century, the Medieval Warm Period (MWP), a period of several centuries of warm temperatures, came to an end, giving way to the Little Ice Age.  The fourteenth century experienced numerous catastrophes in the wake of the climatic shift, such as the droughts of 1302-1305 and the famine of 1315-1321.  It is possible, therefore, that the flood of 1333 was part of the broader change in climate like that facing us in the twenty-first century.

Thomas Ballhausen, Salzburg, and Christa Tuczay, Vienna: On the Non-Human Nature of Sirens: Discourses of the Monstrous in Literary Orders of Nature

Taking the motif of the sirens as its point of departure, this paper will explore the interrelation of literary representations of nature and the nature of the literary discourse on the basis of the special case of the monstrous. From the representations and attributions to the sirens we can not only trace the repeated unfolding of a mythical, primal scene of communication but can also examine the question of the embedding of the monstrous in a discourse about the orders of nature, which is not least influenced by literature. First, we elaborate a concept of monstrosity which, from ancient and pre-modern sources to the present, finds itself in tension with a wide variety of orders of nature; second, we argue that the siren motif is an archetype in literary history that is embedded in a concept of monstrosity; and finally, we examine the inclusion of the siren motif in a little-known early text by the Austrian poet Friederike Mayröcker, who combines pre-modern and modern principles to reflect on notions of normality, seduction, and the transgression and dissolution of boundaries.

Pascale Barthe, University of North Carolina Wilmington: Kashmir: Where Mughal Pastoral Poetry and François Bernier Meet  

According to Frédéric Tinguely, Kashmir was a laboratory of Gassendist philosophy for François Bernier. At once a place to be observed and the occasion to sharpen one’s critical thinking, the remote Himalayan region became a land of ideas under the Frenchman’s pen when he traveled there in the summer of 1665. And thus, the Mughals’ “Paradis terrestre des Indes” disappeared under the philosophical thoughts of a libertin. But how might Bernier himself have been influenced by the natural environment of which he was writing?

In addition to the spirited anecdotes and commentaries for which the Mughal faith-based interpretations of natural events are known, Bernier’s letters also contain his own detailed descriptions of landscapes resembling the idyllic heaven that Kashmir represented for early modern Mughals. At once protected and sublimated by peaks, Kashmir is endowed with an extraordinary flora that is nothing short of miraculous, admits Bernier, who thereby infuses a strong paradisiacal element in his reports on India. Not only did Bernier know that Kashmir was the Mughal court’s favored summer resort, he was also familiar with Mughal pastoral poetry, which extolled the natural beauty and uniqueness of the region and the powerful metaphor for the empire that it embodied. Focusing on Bernier’s attention to nature in his letters shows that the Frenchman was very familiar with this Kashmiri pastoral universe and its symbolic underpinnings. In his writings, Bernier, therefore, introduces his European readers to a rich, religiously influenced Mughal poetic tradition as much as he interprets Kashmir through his own lenses. Moreover, Bernier engages with this Mughal tradition: What does a European become when he encounters Kashmir, he asks. Can a firangi become a Mughal in Kashmir? Is it possible for him to compete with and outperform the famed Kalim, Qudsi, and Fani?

Centered on Bernier’s letters, this talk examines the role that Kashmir’s natural environment and pastoral poetry play in the integration of European in the Mughal Empire. It asks whether nature hides or, on the contrary, accentuates alterity, and ultimately whether nature can attenuate the weight of empire on a subject, whether foreign or Mughal.

Jane Beal, Dept. of English, University of La Verne, CA: The Natural World: Inspiration and Transformation in the Medieval English Dream Vision, Pearl, and its Illustrations from British Library MS Cotton Nero A.x

 The anonymous Pearl-poet was inspired by the natural world when he wrote his late-medieval dream vision poem, Pearl, in Middle English. The dream vision is structured with attention to three ascending landscapes: a garden, where the Dreamer falls asleep; the marvelous East on the borders of the Earthly Paradise, where the Dreamer finds himself walking in his dream and later talking across a stream with the Pearl-Maiden; and the New Jerusalem, which the Dreamer beholds in a vision-within-his-dream. The natural landscape of the garden contains specific references to gillyflower, ginger, and gromwell as well as peonies. The bejeweled landscape of the dream encompasses trees blue boles and silver leaves, gravel made up entirely of pearls, and a streambed with banks of beryl, among other wonders. In the Dreamer’s culminating vision, the New Jerusalem shines just as in Revelation with streets of clear gold, gates of gigantic pearl, and twelve different kinds of precious and semi-precious stones. In the midst of the heavenly city, the Dreamer beholds the Lamb of God.

In each setting, the poet draws inspiration from the natural world to describe not only the richness of the landscape but to convey deeper levels of meaning. In the garden, the inspiration of growing plants is most evident, for gromwell, ginger, gillyflower and peony are specifically named. Each had practical medicinal purposes as well as spiritual significance in the sign system accepted in the poet’s time. Once the Dreamer enters his dream, the natural world begins to be transformed by the poet’s imagination. The focus shifts from garden plants to marvelous trees and singing birds and precious gems in the streambed. Across the stream, the Dreamer sees a cliff of crystal, before which stands the Maiden, adorned with pearls in her crown, her dress, and upon her breast. The Maiden herself is called both “pearl” and “rose.” Finally, the Dreamer witnesses a vision of the natural world fully transformed in the supernatural glory of the New Jerusalem and Jesus, depicted as pure white Lamb with a wide, wet wound in his side, gushing red blood, but with a countenance filled with joy. In the poem, he is called “Jewel.”

My analysis of key literary passages in Pearl will trace how the poet’s inspiration from the natural world leads to transformation in the poem – not only of landscape, but of the Dreamer himself – with careful consideration of the four illustrations that accompany the poem in its unique manuscript, British Library MS Cotton Nero A.x, which show how the first sketch-artist and manuscript painter depicted key moments in the poem for future readers.

Chiara Benati, Università di Genova: The Environmental Causes of the Plague and their Terminology in the German Pestbücher of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries

In his essay on the treatment of the plague (Liber pestilentialis de venenis epidimie. Das bůch der vergift der pestilentz das da genant ist der gemein sterbent der Trüsen Blatren, Straßburg: Grüninger 1500), the Strasburgian surgeon Hieronymus Brunschwig lists a series of possible causes for the outbreak of the plague, some of which clearly remind us of present-day environmental discourse on pollution and climatic change: the poisoning of the soil, the air, and the water determined by the negative influence of the stars, and the appearance of unusual climatic conditions, as well as sudden and significant weather changes. These concepts are not Brunschwig’s own but derive from a long tradition of German texts dealing with the plague, its causes, and treatment (Pestbücher) and can be traced back to the work of Konrad of Megenberg (1305-1374), one of the more forward-thinking authors in this field.

In this paper, the most significant of these treatises from the fourteenth and the fifteenth century will be taken into consideration with respect to their description of the “environmental” causes of the plague and to the terminology used to indicate them, in order to outline the late medieval and early modern conception of the relationship between human health and environment, as well as its linguistic representation in the German language.

Anne Berthelot, University of Connecticut: « La Nature, c’est le Diable ! »: Nature as Diabolical in Medieval Romances

In Eric Rohmer’s film, Perceval le Gallois, supposedly adapted from and in fact considered very faithful to the romance by Chrétien de Troyes, Nature is represented by the shapes of artificial trees, and painted canvas decorations on which some vague castles stand out, made of embedded boxes. There has been much discussion about the relevance of this vision, which appears to underline the extent to which nature as such is not at the center of the concerns of the Arthurian novel in general: a barely sketched framework, a generic backdrop, at best a place where the adventure takes place, but an adventure that precisely does not involve natural elements. All in all, the natural world would be only an entourage for the human subjects who pass through it without lingering there.

I would like to go further here and suggest that in a certain number of these romances, and not necessarily only “Breton” romances, Nature is quite frankly the devil. It begins, of course, with the figure of Merlin, who in the eponymous prose romance obligingly warns the two princes Pendragon and Uter who want to “keep him” at court that “because of the nature of his father” (an incubus, designated in some manuscripts by the term equipedes which brings him closer to Greco-Roman satyrs), he sometimes has to be “par force eschis de la gent.” Alternatively, the natural world where the Merlin known as Sylvestris evolves in the Vita Merlin is a refuge perceived as harsh and uncomfortable for a creature that has sunk into madness: the forest is the place where humans lose their humanity, to the point that in the Vulgate Suite of Merlin, Merlin can rewrite his own story in his own way by substituting for his father the devil a “Wild Man” father who sleeps with his sleeping mother along the road on her return from a fair. What comes out of the forest is not humankind, but borderline animal caricature. Going a step further: at the end of the 13th century, the drastic reinterpretation of the story of Merlin shaped by Baudouin Butor in his Roman des fils du roi Constant no longer makes Northumberland a place where the good hermit Blaise can write the book of the Grail under the dictation of the fatherless child when the latter visits him, but the site of the Noire Montaigne on which stands the fortress of the demons, where they hold their council and receive with great pomp the young Libanor, pregnant (at least they hope) with the new Antichrist who will redeem their failure with Merlin himself.

In fact, the more one advances in the Middle Ages, the more the hermits, isolated from the world and living alone in the wilderness, have bad press: let us see for instance the allusions to the hermit Robinet des Vaux, whom everyone knows is the nickname of the devil, by the accusers of one of the first great witchcraft trials at the end of the 15th century, in Arras. And it is well known that not much good comes out of the natural world, only those fairy creatures who faint before a sign of the cross, which is proof that they are “from the devil,” or, in the case of males, sire unsavory sons, be it Tydorel, Robert the Devil or Sir Gowther in eponym texts. Not to mention the Beast Glatissant, who may begin as a symbol of Christ, but ends up as a son of the devil and therefore Merlin’s half-sister, who can only find refuge in an eternally threatening Nature.

I will consider these cases and a few others to explore the the distrust, even the phobia, of some medieval works towards Nature.


Marialuisa Caparrini – University of Ferrara (Italy): Natural environment in the Old English Orosius: Ohthere’s travel accounts in Norway

The Old English travel accounts generally known as Ohthere’s Voyages represent – together with Wulfstan’s travel report – the main historical document and the earliest written geographical description of Northern Europe which has come down to us as interpolation in the late-ninth century Old English translation of Paulus Orosius’s Historiarum adversum Paganos Libri Septem. Ohthere describes two sea journeys, one from his homeland (Halgoland) northward to the White Sea, and one southward first to the Norwegian port called Sciringes heal and then to the Danish trading settlement Hæþum. Ohthere’s description of the two voyages is enriched with nautical details and with both geographical and ethnographical information on the Norwegian territory, on the peoples he meets (e.g., the Finnas and the Beormas), and on their settlements and ways of living. The accounts have been long studied from both philological and historical points of view, especially from a geographical, nautical, political, and economic angle. Aim of this paper is to investigate Ohthere’s travels from a deeper natural perspective, that is, in their description of the natural environment and its relationship with people highlighting, on the one hand, the description of rural and agricultural landscapes, i.e., of a nature which can be seen as ‘subordinate’ to human and human activities, and, on the other, the description of wilderness and wastelands with temporary settlements, in order to ascertain whether some depictions can be considered and analyzed as long-term factors (such as, for example, the whale- and walrus-hunting) of present-day conditions and situations.

Albrecht Classen, University of Arizona: Medieval Epistemology and the Perception of Nature: From the Physiologus to John of Garland and the Niederrheinische Orientbericht. Bestiaries and the ‘Book of Nature’

Postmodern readers tend to misunderstand most of medieval attempts to come to terms with nature, which was consistently viewed through allegorical lenses. Of course, in the daily context, nature was nature, and farmers and hunters, for instance, engaged with animals as they needed. Gardens and fields were set up, fishermen went to work, and woodcutters and foresters were busily at work in the forests. The philosophical and literary approach to nature, however, operated quite differently because animals and plants were all identified as the result of the Creator’s work. Hence, the intellectuals’ task was to gain a deeper understanding of the material dimension which certainly carried multiple meanings. This hence explains why so many medieval bestiaries and encyclopedias appear to represent reality in a rather imaginative manner and did not care about the accuracy of their observations. Only if we accept that the pre-modern age was deeply determined by an alternative epistemology, with which they operated quite successfully, will we be able to grasp the ultimate motivation behind the presentation and discussion of fanciful creatures, including monsters, all of which serving intricately for the illustration of God’s glory and infinite potentiality.

Fidel Fajardo-Acosta, Creighton University, NE: Unnatural Humans: The Misbegotten Monsters of Beowulf

Humn responsibility in the destruction of nature, and the consequent destruction of humans themselves, is an understandable concern of a postmodern humanity living in what feel like apocalyptic times. These concerns, however, are as old as writing itself, as can be seen in Sumerian and Babylonian Great Flood narratives that inspired the biblical accounts. In those stories, the transgressions of humans anger the gods and cause a near-total destruction of all living things. As is well-known to scholars, the Beowulf poet was most likely an ecclesiastic well-versed in biblical lore, not just in the canonical texts but also the so-called pseudepigraphal traditions, represented by works like the Book of Jubilees, the Book of Enoch, and the Book of Giants. Biblical sources portray humans as disobedient creatures who defy the order of God’s creation and hence bring about its corruption and destruction, as well as their own downfall. In both the canonical and the pseudepigraphical texts, the first rift between humans and nature occurs when Adam and Eve disobey God and are exiled from the Garden of Eden, a clearly anthropogenic loss of a benign natural habitat that is then replaced by harsh conditions of scarcity, death, and deprivation. A second transgression occurs when the firstborn son of Adam and Eve, Cain, kills his own brother, Abel, and is exiled as well, having to live as a homeless wanderer. Though Genesis is silent on the identity of Cain’s wife, the Book of Jubilees specifies that Cain marries his own sister, Âwân (4:9), a union that is of high concern to the Beowulf poet, as he characterizes the monsters, Grendel and his mother, as “Cāines cynne” (l. 107; kin of Cain). In addition to the sins of Adam, Eve, and Cain, the biblical stories speak of an ill-advised mixing of the “sons of God” and the “daughters of men” (Genesis 6:1-4), which results in their begetting giants, the Nephilim, “the heroes of old, men of renown” (Genesis 6:4 NIV). It is precisely when those giants come into being that God decides to send the Great Flood. The monsters in Beowulf, Grendel and his mother, are specifically said to be giants and they are explicitly connected to their biblical counterparts, whose destruction in the Great Flood is recorded on the rune-inscribed hilt of the giant sword that Beowulf finds in the Grendels’ underwater cave (ll. 1689-1693). The monsters’ abode is, accordingly, a polluted and murky environment of bloody waters infested with serpent-like vermin. The biblical stories do not seem to openly condemn incest (for all we know Eve was either Adam’s sister or daughter) but clearly condemns fratricide. The Beowulf poet, on the other hand, as a medieval Christian, is certainly repelled not just by Cain’s killing of his brother but also by his inbred offspring, as well as by the problematic interbreeding of “sons of God” and “daughters of men.” Both types of unions, at least from the perspective of the Beowulf poet, result in monsters that are threats to God’s creation. Biblical sources are not, however, the only evidence of a subtext of counterproductive, hence unnatural, sexuality in Beowulf. Incest and other transgressions, such as bestiality, the quintessential form of forbidden mating, are quite prominently featured in Scandinavian narratives like Saxo Grammaticus’s History of the Danes, Hrolf’s Saga Kraka, and the Ynglinga Saga, which present numerous parallels to the characters and situations in the Anglo-Saxon epic. Though sanitizers of the Beowulf story would claim that it has nothing to do with incest, the fact is quite other. Both inbreeding and interbreeding are present in the Anglo-Saxon epic in the form of their offspring, the descendants of Cain and the biblical giants. Judged by their fruit, the sexual transgressions are seen as unnatural acts that beget unnatural creatures, monsters who, in their misbegotten character — violent, greedy, proud, and lustful — bring about death and destruction to others and to themselves as well. Ultimately, what perverse sexuality represents in the Anglo-Saxon epic is the propensity of humans to exceed the boundaries of the natural, i.e. to neglect the properly restrained, frugal, moral, ethical, peaceful, productive and responsible conduct that guarantees the stability and continuation of human and other forms of life.

Nurit Golan, Tel-Aviv University: Humanity and Nature as perceived by Giulio Romano in his Sala dei Giganti, 1532-35; Palazzo Té, Mantua, Italy

In his masterpiece of illusionism, Giulio Romano created a unique visual experience. The cubic room which seems to be a 360 degrees round one, engulfs the spectator with horrid depictions of giants being crushed by enormous rocks, a volcano erupting while palaces collapse. Jupiter from Olympus casts his fire bolts at the rebellious giants as described in Metamorphoses by Ovid. The spectator walks into the room and is immersed in this disastrous world that surrounds him.

In this paper, I’ll discuss the ideas regarding nature and society, art and nature, reality and illusion as depicted in this artifact and their philosophical background. I’ll also discuss the social role this room played in the Federico II Gonzaga palace’s entertainment.

Filip Hrbek, John Evangelista Purkyně University in Ústí nad Labem, Czech Republic, Perception of Quality of Air in the Czech Lands of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries

The issue of the quality of air is nowadays considered one of the most important global challenges, which is further understood as a part of humanity’s effort to counter global warming. However, if we want to build a better relationship between humans and the environment today, we cannot ignore the relationship of individuals to the environment already in the past. Concern about the environment can be traced back to the late Middle Ages and early modern period, in the Czech lands to a greater extent in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

In terms of perceiving a connection between air quality and human health, it is necessary to realize that medicine from the times of Hippocrates and Galen until the modern period was based mainly on the art of regimen (dietetics), which included the overall lifestyle. Its principle was balance and harmony of human activities, as well as the use of six things “not natural” (sex res non naturales), where the first field of interest was light and air. Thus, the authors who were interested in air quality at that time were primarily doctors, but in a broader sense lay scholars. However, secular authorities, representatives of municipalities and later also authorities of a central character did not remain aside and paid attention to this issue as well. Nevertheless, it is necessary to realize that this interest was not driven by consideration for nature, but by the effort to preserve people’s health or by the interest in maintaining the functioning of the economy, which was fundamentally dependent on the sufficiency and quality of input sources (water, forests, livestock, animals, and air as a medium that enters all foregoing sources).

This study will attempt to answer the following questions: Was the landscape and nature of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries also judged from the point of view of a “good place to live,” which reflected air quality/air pollution, as is the case today, e.g., in the choice of house lots? Were the people in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries already sensitive to the perception of sources of air pollution, or is the individual assessment of air quality (“smells”/“does not smell”) only a question of the twentieth century? Was there in the mentality of the contemporary people anything like a “pollution industry,” which could be compared to modern industrial production? And was there an interest of early modern secular authorities and scholars in preventing air pollution in towns to affect its inhabitants?

The thesis will be based on the analysis of anti-plague prints written by doctors and lay scholars, and official regulations of early modern Bohemia. The contemporary topographies that describe the landscape and air will be used as additional sources.


(Theater Performance) Sharon King, UCLA: “Human Society and the Natural World” – Les Enfans Sans Abri (Director Sharon Diane King, together with her husband Curt Steindler) will present

The Saintly Mister Louse (Sermon de Monsieur Saint Pou)

An anonymous sermon joyeux in original translation. Text is mid-late 15th-century northern French, reworked in the latter half of the 17th century.

Longsuffering martyr Saint Louse, a reviled if ubiquitous part of the natural world, is celebrated for his enthusiastic subjugation of human vassals, especially among the various clerical orders. The two-person play whimsically highlights human beings’ longstanding engagement with this parasitic life form, and underscores universal concerns of hygiene and public health.

The Narrator – Sharon Diane King

Saint Louse – Curt Steindler

Run time – 20 minutes.

Alyssa Larson, Creighton University: Nature Lost: Milton, Mammon, and the End of Eden

In Paradise Lost, John Milton portrays the natural world as a Garden of Eden where humans work in harmony with nature and look after the land on which they live. Milton’s work came at a time when British colonialism was in full swing and Puritan and other settlements in North America were thriving, at the expense of nature and the native peoples there. Also at this time, Sir Francis Bacon argued for man regaining his rightful dominion over nature.[1] The colonialist and exploitative view of the natural world would appear to be contrary to Milton’s idyllic visions of innocent humanity fully integrated into the natural world. A demon like Mammon, who brutally excavates and exploits the earth, and whose greed for gold and precious gemstones is so intense that he always focuses his gaze downwards, would seem to confirm the poet’s proto-Romantic reverence for the virginal wildernesses of the world. There is a tension, however, between these appearances of ecological enlightenment and the dominion of men above all other living things advocated by the angel Raphael. Milton’s natural world is also made into a figure of strange sensuality, one that evokes a potential to be either loved and looked after or to be raped and defiled. Bill Phillips suggests in his study “The Rape of Mother Earth in Seventeenth Century English Poetry” that Milton utilizes preexisting associations between femininity and nature in order to “justify both the domination of women and of the land by men, whether it be done by lovers, colonists, or theologians.”[2]

In this paper, I intend to examine the ways in which Milton apparently condemns the misuse of nature and natural resources, while in reality advocating for their full appropriation. I am in agreement with Rodger Martin who views Milton’s Satan as a projection of English anxieties surrounding Spain’s exploration of the New World[3]. Read through this lens, Paradise Lost is critical of colonization and exploitation of natural resources to the extent that this abuse of nature is committed by a nation other than England. Milton’s feminization of nature and explicit subordination of Eve to the authority of Adam, along with Raphael’s assertion of the dominance of man over nature, strongly suggest that Milton’s portrayals of an idyllic relationship between humans and nature is pretextual to an implicit justification of its wholesale exploitation and eradication. Mammon in that sense is not so much an embodiment of the evils of greed, as an othered projection of the desires of an author, and a culture, looking down on the world, and preparing to take it by storm, in the name of money, power and global empire.

[1] Balachandra Rajan, Elizabeth Sauer, and Diane Kelsey McColley, “Ecology and Empire,” in Milton and the Imperial Vision (Duquesne University Press, 1999), pp. 112-129, 118.

[2] Bill Phillips, “The Rape of Mother Earth in Seventeenth Century English Poetry: An Ecofeminist Interpretation.,” Atlantis 26, no. 1 (June 2004): pp. 49-60, 49.

[3] Martin, Rodger. “The Colonization of Paradise: Milton’s Pandemonium and Montezuma’s Tenochtitlan.” Comparative Literature Studies 35, no. 4 (1998): 321–55.

William Mahan, Oklahoma State: Praising Perchta as Nature’s Cycles Embodied: Worship and Demonization of Perchta in Medieval and Early Modern Culture

Those familiar with Perchta typically think of a Krampus-like creature as a part of Alpine traditions preserved through folklore and, especially costumes, or in some cases the name brings to mind a ‘Christmas Witch.’ This paper examines the Perchta as a goddess, depicted in medieval and early modern texts as an embodiment of nature’s elements including the winter and spring seasons. Religious and other sources condemn the worship of Perchta and demonize the goddess, but in folklore and customs surrounding Perchten, they are honored as protectors and as a part of nature, often attributed with animal-like qualities or as the personification of the seasons. This paper considers the Perchta in religious and secular texts as well as customs including feeding and mumming. In her duality (Schön– and Schiachperchten) of brightness and beauty versus darkness and death, Perchta reflects cycles in nature such as day and night or the changing of seasons. The costumes of goatskin, horns, masks, fangs, and twigs or switches all reflect the embodiment of nature and wildness (as the name “Wild Hunt” implies) in human-like form. The worship or feeding of Perchta, essentially a reverence of the seasons and an acknowledgment of dependence on nature, concerned the church as a connection to a false idol. Pagan celebrations of nature and the seasons conflicted with Christian holidays and represented a refusal to convert and pay taxes to the church by people who lived in remote areas and retained traditional pagan beliefs. Perchten are personified as forces of nature in identities such as “Winterdämonen,” wild women of the mountain forests, or in other cases as brighter ushers of spring.

The earliest known allusion to Perchta is from the eleventh-century Monseer Glossen, a collection of polemical commentaries, with the first reference to Giperchtennacht or Perch-Tag (Perch-Day), which is explicitly identified as Epiphany.[1] Some of the earliest references to Perchta are medieval ecclesiastical writings describing the folk belief of the Wild Hunt, in which Perchta flies through the air with other pagan goddesses or a host of beings. Hans Vintler alludes to the c. 900 Canon episcopi and Burchardt of Worms’ Libri Decretum (1008-1012) in his Pluemen der Tugent (1411), a compendium of Tyrolean custom, discussing a Perchta as a false goddess. The Old High German word peraht means bright or shining (hell, glänzend), but the name could also have Celtic influence. “Perchta” is usually preceded by the respectful title Frau (Lady), or the Latin Domina in medieval sources. Looking at medieval and early modern references Marianne Rumpf has identified two main types of Perchta: the bogey who inspects the spinning room and threatens disobedient children, and the leader of the Wild Hunt.[2] In St. Emmeran’s fifteenth-century penitential Perchta is one of the Three Sisters receiving food offerings and riding through the night in the company of Diana and werewolves, and Benediktbeuren’s Tractatus de superstitionibus (1460) describes Perchta flying with demonic beings on January 5. Another source is Die Hymelstrass (1494), in which Stephanus Lanzkrana condemns belief in ‘frawen percht’ as a violation of the First Commandment. One of the most important early sources for the study of Perchta folklore is a pair of woodcuts entitled “Butzen-Bercht und Kinderfresser” published in Augsburg, Germany in the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century. The folk custom of food offerings to Perchta is condemned in several of these texts, but the prominence such practices indicates that the folk worshipped and revered the goddess as an embodiment of nature, the seasons, and wildness. The praise of Perchta reflects a desire to remain tethered to nature and pagan tradition rather than assimilating into society and was perceived as a threat to the Catholic church.

[1] Hans Schuhladen, ‘Zur Geschichte von Perchtenbrauchen im Berchtesgadener Land, in Tirol und Salzburg vom 16. bis zum 19. Jahrhundert. Grundlagen zur Analyse heutigen Traditionsverständnisses’ in Bayerische Hefte für Volkskunde (1983-1984), 1-29, p. 24.

[2] Marianne Rumpf, ‘Perchta in der Sage und in mittelalterlichen Quellen’, ‘Perchta in der Sage und der mittelälterlichen Quellen’ in Probleme der Sagenforschung: Verhandlungen der Tagung veranstaltet von der Kommission für Erzählforschung der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Volkskunde e. V. vom 27 September bis 1 Okober 1972 in Freiburg in Breisgau, ed. by Lutz Röhrich (Freiburg in Breisgau: Forschungsstelle Sage, Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, 1973), pp. 122-138.

Reinhold Münster, Hochschule Schweinfurt-Würzburg: Animals in the Cosmic Space: Travels to the Outer Space in the Early Modern Period

This paper examines a paradigm shift in narrative literature especially in the time from ca. 1620 to ca. 1660. Writers began to project a new concept of space in contrast to the medieval notions of heaven and earth (shift from the geocentric to the heliocentric worldview). This scientific transformation had a deep impact on the way how animals (and hence also people) were viewed. While there continued to be all kinds of monsters here on earth that threatened humans’ existence in the oceans and in forests, new utopias of life in cosmic space entailed the creation of innovative images of animals. This observation forces us to raise questions regarding human consciousness and language. The study begins with texts from ca. 1520 and then moves to those from the period ca. 1620 to ca. 1660 during which the natural scientific discourse also changed profoundly. In the conclusion, literary evidence from the following centuries will also be addressed.

Wendy Pfeffer, University of Louisville and with the University of Pennsylvania: “When Is a Good Time? Health Advice and the Months of the Year” (presentation by Zoom or equivalent).

This paper demonstrates the ties between the Diététique provençale, a thirteenth-century Occitan ensenhamen on the topic of health and diet, to Latin works called Regimina XII mensum. Ilaria Zamuner alluded to this connection but did not develop the argument. The Regimina texts spell out, month by month, what to eat and what to do medically according to a calendar of the months; the Diététique translates this advice for its Occitan audience.

Daniel F. Pigg, The University of Tennessee at Martin: William Langland’s Piers Plowman and the Natural World: Finding Comfort and Meaning in Nature

When readers think of William Langland’s Piers Plowman what often comes to mind are ideological landscapes, often the product of allegorical narratives or manifestations of personification allegory. At the same time the poem presents quite a number of representations of the world of nature that are supportive of the dreamer’s state of comfort and knowing. Will the Dreamer lives in the natural world among banks, brooks, and fields, and he is indebted to the natural world for goods and shelter. From the opening of the poem that deals with conspicuous consumption of natural resources to Langland’s representation of Nature (Kynde) as masculine rather than what one might expect as feminine to hundreds of metaphorical uses of nature throughout the poem, Langland keeps the world of nature central to his vision of this world.

This paper will demonstrate how Langland’s seemingly allegorical narrative is really a text about the opening of the natural world as an emblem of revelation about the truth. To have written a poem where the central character Piers the Plowman is himself so close to the world of nature is a testimony to the importance of the natural world to life in the late fourteenth century, a period after nature itself has been compromised in the Black Death. Nature becomes in the poem a comfort, a reminder of divine grace, the image of human waste and exploitation, and a means for renewal. Nature is indeed everywhere in the poem – from the ground to the trees to the stars above.

John Pizer, Louisiana State University: Imitation vs. Allegorization: Martin Opitz’s Influential Poetic Nature Postulate

In his article “The Meaning of Art and Nature in German Baroque,” Gabriel Gersh cites Martin Opitz’s highly influential statement in Buch von der Deutschen Poeterey (1624) that poetry is rooted in the imitation of nature, but not in the real existing nature in which we live. Rather, the poet must imitate the phenomena of the natural world as they could or should be. Gersh notes the idea of natural imitation is not new, but that Opitz’s prescription of idealized nature is novel. Gersh does not have a positive view of Opitz’s nature postulate, and many critics even up to the present-day regard it as helping to foster the sort of stale vraisemblance paradigm prevalent in the 17th and 18th centuries in Boileau, Gottsched, and Charles Batteux. However, even Opitz’s critics concede his treatise on German poetry had an influence on subsequent movements such as Weimar Classicism and Romanticism, when the ideal of vraisemblance was overcome. My paper would argue that Opitz’s formula was also important in tacitly countering the opinion prevalent in the Baroque age that the poet must allegorize the natural world. Countering this view first enables the conceptualization of the natural sublime most famously explicated in the modern age by Burke and Kant. To be sure, Baroque allegory is designed to trigger the feelings of awe and/or fear they also associate with the sublime. However, these emotions are connected in Baroque allegory with divine manifestations in nature rather than in the phenomena of nature in themselves. In Burke, Kant and others, the feelings aroused by these phenomena are rooted in nature qua nature, not in natural forces allegorically represented as tokens of godly power. Opitz did engage in some allegorization, but my paper would show how he also evokes a more secular natural sublimity in his poetry and how his book on German poetry paved the way for the formulation of the truly natural sublime in the 18th century, when European society was moving toward such secularization and away from a popular and critical perspective which saw art and religion as inextricably intertwined.

Connie L. Scarborough, Texas Tech University, Island, Grove, Bark and Pith: Nature Metaphors in Teresa de Cartagena

One of the themes developed by Teresa de Cartagena in her text Arboleda de los enfermos (Grove of the Infirm) is the idea of exile on a metaphorical island. In this symbolic space, she will construct her grove of what she calls “buenos consejos y espirituales consolaçiones” (38)[i] [“good counsel and spiritual consolation” (24)].[ii] On her metaphorical island, amidst a grove of allegorical trees, Teresa explores her own experience as a deaf person and writes a text to console others who suffer physical impairment or infirmity. The purpose of the present study is to show how Teresa uses these, and other elements from the natural world, to provide concrete images that will help others to understand the meaning(s) of disability and to accept their suffering. She will also employ nature imagery when in her second treatise, Admiraçion operum Dey, she is compelled to write a defense of her authorship of Arboleda de los enfermos.

[i] All quotes from Arboleda are from Lewis Joseph Hutton’s edition.

[ii] All translations are from Dayle Seidenspinner-Núñez’s The Writings of Teresa de Cartagena.

David Tomíček, John Evangelista Purkyně University in Ústí nad Labem, Czech Republic: Res naturales, Causes and Nature of Diseases in Czech Medical Literature of the Sixteenth Century

Under the influence of the Latin translation of the late 11th-century treatise Isagoge ad Tegni Galieni, medieval theoretical medicine was divided into three parts: res naturales, res non naturales, and res contra naturam. The first area of theoretical concerns included questions of human physiognomy and physiology, the second was directed toward understanding the risks of an unsuitable lifestyle and environment, and the third was devoted to diseases, their causes, manifestations, and treatments. These three theoretical categories were all based on the humoral theory (Galen) and were interrelated: disease is manifested by symptoms referring to an ailment in a particular part of the human body that has been caused by inappropriate behavior or a harmful environmental influence. The aim of my paper is to analyze the knowledge about these theoretical categories and their interrelationships in selected sixteenth-century Czech-language medical writings. I will focus mainly on the Basic and Perfect Regiment of Health by Johann Kopp of Raumenthal, the Regiment of Health by Adam Huber of Riesenbach, and on the prosaic commentary on the Regimen sanitatis salernitanum. These works were intended for a wider audience and sought to popularize medical theories as well as provide instruction for a healthy lifestyle. I will be interested in the terminology used and ways of conceptualizing the phenomenon of human health, the harmful effects of external causes on the natural course of the human organism, and the dependence of the human being on the physical environment in texts on health maintenance.

Warren Tormey, English Department, Middle Tennessee State University: Waste, Excess, and Profligacy in Fourteenth-Century English Literature 

The fourteenth-century poem “Winnere and Wastoure” captures aspects of fit resource use in its arguments about the proper attitudes to be held by kings and leaders.  Prudence and Profligacy stand as contrasting themes as the debate unfolds, reflecting a traditional dream vision and a debate within that dream to gain clarity on a moral or ethical position.  Despite the poem’s obscure provenance and truncated character, it serves to demonstrate how the concepts of waste and excess have currency within literate circles in later fourteenth-century England.

In a better-known work from the same period, Chaucer’s Knight tells a tale that strains credulity in multiple ways.  Heavily invested in chivalric ceremony and detail, this story of the romantic rivalry between Palamon and Arcite draws out their conflict over multiple years and challenges even the most fantastic conventions of medieval romance.  In bringing grandeur and gravitas to the struggle between the two imprisoned rivals, the Knight provides multiple overblown details and suggests notes of excess and profligacy that might bring pause to a careful reader.

In one such instance, the emperor Theseus declares that the rivals will assemble forces and gather in a chivalric tournament to determine who is worthy of gaining the hand of the object of their affection, the indifferent princess Emelye.  With the defeated Arcite vanquished in the epic battle, Theseus commissions that he be immolated in a funeral pyre of improbably large dimensions.  In an example of excess and needless splendor that pervades the poem as a whole, the Knight describes a pyre where “twenty fadme of brede the armes straughte” [“twenty fathoms breath the arms (branches) stretched,” 2916] and includes wood from twenty distinct types of tree (2921-23).  In this example and elsewhere, the knight consistently highlights the spectacle of the contest with details that suggest his grandiose sensibilities are out of proportion to the finite resources around him.

Meanwhile, in another signature work from the same period, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, we see the same focus on consumption, elegance, waste, and profligacy.  These themes particularly resonate in the hunting scenes, where Lord Bertilak takes leads his charges in pursuit of big game while Gawain stays behind at Hautedesert to ward off the erotic advances of Lady Bertilak.  In this series of episodes, the lugubrious character of Gawain’s steadfast rejection of the lady’s entreaties contrasts markedly with the bloody and gruesome details of the lord’s Bertilak hunt, which stands out for the excessive character of its bloody carnage.  A precursor to more gruesome details, the narrator describes in Fitt 3 how “such a sowme he ther slowe by that th e sunne heldet, / Of dos and of other dere, to deme were wonder” [“such a sum he there slayed by day’s end, of does and other deer would be hard to wonder at,” 1321-22].

To that end, this essay will attempt to read to these select signature works from fourteenth-century English literature from an ecocritcal vantage and will attempt to connect these recurring themes of waste and profligacy to larger exegetical messages which caution about excess and overuse of resources.  It will also will look at how to situate this message within the social context of a growing bourgeois culture in which resources were (for select members of society) newly abundant and available, and as consumers were newly confronting the concepts of waste and excess in ways not imagined (at least in fourteenth century England) since the times of Imperial Rome. Arguing that these cautionary notes against excessive waste and resource exploitation are not accidental nor coincidental, this essay will also attempt to explore these themes in greater detail as a proto-environmentalist’s warning against the dangers of indiscriminate waste and overzealous resource consumption within a marginally prosperous climate newly confronting the concepts of excess and the limitations of finite resources.

Birgit Wiedl, Institute for Jewish History in Austria, St. Pölten, Austria: Jewish Viticulture in the Middle Ages

Just as in Christianity, wine played an important role in a number of religious rites in Judaism. The supply of kosher wine, i.e. wine that had been produced according to halachic principles, and consequently also the acquisition and cultivation of their own vineyards was therefore a central concern of Ashkenazi Jews. In addition, vineyards were a popular pledge for Christian debtors, which meant Jewish men and women often came into possession of vineyards as forfeited pawns.

Viticulture, whether Jewish or Christian, also had a massive impact on the medieval environment, both in rural and urban areas and transformed it into a specific agricultural form. Organizing and cultivating vineyards required both skill and an increased workload during certain weeks of the year, and was governed by local viticulture laws that were independent of Jewish or Christian ownership.

In this paper I would therefore like to pursue the questions of how “Jewish viticulture” worked in practice, of how they acquired their vineyards and how and by whom these “Jewish vineyards” were operated and managed, and where (and if) it differed from the surrounding Christian viticulture. Furthermore, Jewish vintners and Jewish vineyard laborers faced specific challenges – such as the frequent coincidence in time of grape harvest and the holiday of sukkot – which called for solutions that met both the halachic requirements and the demands of this particular form of agriculture.

Thomas Willard, University of Arizona: Johann Arndt’s Book of Nature: Medieval Ideas in the Reformation Era

Sometimes called the grandfather of German pietism, Johann Arndt (1555-1621) sought to reduce the doctrinal differences among religious reformers by placing the emphasis on the individual Christian’s approach to God. To this end, he turned to elements of medieval mysticism. He prepared his own German editions of the Imitatio Christi and the Theologia Germanica, two classics of medieval German mysticism. In the Imitation of Christ, ascribed to the Dutch theologian Thomas à Kempis, Arndt drew attention to the emphasis on interior life and the interplay of nature and grace. In the anonymous German Theology, he took a special interest in the pairing of the outward person and the inward counterpart.

Arndt’s most influential work, Vier Bücher vom wahren Christentum (1610), built on the medieval commonplace that nature is a book to be read in parallel with Bible. In the 1979 translation of excerpts from this text for the Classics of Western Spirituality series, the four books of true Christianity are given titles corresponding to themes in each of them. There is first the Book of Scripture, then the Book of Life, including salvation and the promise of life eternal. Next, there is the Book of Conscience; and finally, the Book of Nature. This last book, on which the presentation will concentrate, works on the concept that the great world of nature has direct correspondences with the little world of the individual human From this point of view, each person is not only a son of Adam or daughter of Eve, but an epitome of the whole creation. By coming to a better knowledge of nature as God’s creation, one can learn to know and love God.