Not all papers listed here with an abstract were actually presented at the symposium. There were some cancellations, and some papers are only promised in their written form. This list of abstracts serves only as a base for the planned published volume.
David Bennett and Filip Radovic, Representation and Reality, University of Gothenburg, Sweden: The 9th Century: When Dreams Got Real
Aristotle had rejected the commonly held belief that we obtain true information in our dreaming states, unless it be by accident. For Avicenna, however, such knowledge-acquisition is attested to the extent that it is celebrated in his autobiography: he claimed to receive solutions to philosophical problems in his sleep. Avicenna may well have made such statements from personal conviction, but we are certain that his reception of Aristotle’s position on dreams was by way of the notorious Arabic re-formulation of the Parva naturalia. Among other innovations, the Arabic Parva naturalia gave Aristotelian cachet to the notion that experiences in dreams may be “nobler” than those in waking life.
The Arabic version of the Parva naturalia was composed in the 9th century by a translator associated with al-Kindī, who also wrote a treatise on sleep and dreaming. Alongside these philosophical attempts to square Greco-Arabic epistemology with an affirmation of veridical dreams, Muslim theologians—practitioners of kalām—were also positing mechanisms for sense perception which would account for dream experience. Indeed, they went further than that: some developed a model of knowledge that could accommodate the vision of God (as an object of perception) as well as God’s own ability to see (given His attribute al-Baṣīr).
Thus, rooted in the cultural substrate of pre-modern Islam, natural scientists and theologians found a common inquiry concerning the ontological and epistemological properties of the dream image: in this paper, we will examine how this inquiry was sustained throughout the 9th century, providing the groundwork for dogmatic positions in the following generations.
Chiara Benati, Dipartimento di Lingue e Culture Moderne
Università degli Studi di Genova, Imaginary Creatures Causing Real Diseases: Projective Etiology in Medieval and Early Modern Medicine
From a contemporary point of view, the causes of most diseases are well-known or can, in some way, be scientifically related to environmental factors and genetic disposition. However, this is a fairly recent development, and in the Middle Ages and the early modern time people were not, for example, aware of the existence of microscopical, invisible entities as germs causing contagion and transmitting diseases. For this reason, when the explanations based on theories of Hippocrates and Galen – still extremely influential at the time – were not considered satisfactory or when a condition was not simply labelled as divine punishment, medieval and early modern people (and ancient people before them) did not behave much differently from what we still do (consider, for example, the thriving on the internet of the theories linking autism and vaccines!) and found other, more imaginative, explanations for the onset of a given pathology or of its symptoms. In doing this, the responsibility for real diseases and symptoms was often projected onto imaginary creatures, such as worms. In this way, toothache was, for example, ascribed to worms eating the tooth from the inside and, therefore, causing pain.
In this paper, I will focus on these imaginative projective etiologies and on how people elaborated on them (e.g. classifying worms according to color and size, or claiming to have seen them), taking into consideration a corpus of both medical and magical (e.g., charms aimed at healing the pathology they caused) Germanic texts from the Middle Ages and early modern age and paying particular attention to both their origin and their survival in popular belief.
Siegfried Christoph, University of Wisconsin-Parkside
“The Grotesque, the Degenerate, and the Monstrous in the Medieval Imagination”
The paper proposes to examine and differentiate the means and ends which medieval authors utilized to create both aesthetically and morally novel contexts for their audience. A major portion of the paper, which will draw primarily on representative examples from Middle High German literature, will focus on the lengthy and detailed description of ‘monsters’ from the late Arthurian romance, Gauriel von Muntabel, by Konrad von Stoffeln.
The paper will argue that the medieval imagination conceived of ‘monster’ primarily as an aesthetic, rather than morally opprobrious way of situating characters in an alien, and hence challenging context. To this end, the terms ‘degenerate’ and ‘grotesque’ will be differentiated for the sake of clarifying key aspects of the medieval imagination with respect to notions of the ‘monstrous’.
Albrecht Classen, The University of Arizona: The World of Hybrid Women in Medieval and Early Modern Literature
This paper focuses on the surprisingly large number of hybrid female figures in the pre-modern world, especially Melusine, but then also many fairy-like creatures (Marie de France, Lanval; Peter von Stauffenberg). The erotic element in all those projections is very obvious, but the interest in hybridity also reveals a strong subliminal urge to investigate alternative forms of human existence, combining magic with sexuality, political power with economic force. This paper will investigate relevant narratives from the twelfth through the sixteenth century (Paracelsus).
Allison P. Coudert, University of California, Davis: The Monstrous Imagination and its Transformation in the Long Eighteenth Century
My talk will investigate the radical change in the way the imagination was viewed from the sixteenth through the long eighteenth century. From ancient times the imagination had always been treated ambiguously as both a source of creative energy and error. There was a gendered dimension to this ambiguity since the creative side of the imagination was gendered male and the monstrous female. An increasing fear of the imagination and its monstrous productions developed in the early modern period largely as a result of the Protestant Reformation with its iconoclasm and concern with doctrinal orthodoxy, both of which contributed the war against credulity and superstition. But this negative, even fearful, view of the imagination changes in the eighteenth century, when for many people the imagination became a source not only of great pleasure and spiritual insight but of mental and physical health as well. How the decline of Calvinism, the emergence Romanticism and the Gothic novel, and scientific developments play into transformation will be explored.
Fidel Fajardo-Acosta, University of Oklahoma, The Negative Imagination: William IX's Song Exactly About Nothing ("Farai un vers de dreit nien")
In his mysterious composition, "Farai un vers de dreit nien" (A. Pillet & H. Carstens, Bibliographie der troubadours, 183.7), William XI engages in an usual, seemingly parodic exercise in negative poetic imagination, literally positing the subject matter of his song to be exactly nothing (nien). Though this might not seem particularly shocking to modern and postmodern audiences, well-acquainted with existentialist philosophies and nihilistic conceits, the song is rather unusual for the earliest stages of troubadour literature. Also surprising in the first of the known troubadours, the song is suggestive of an already exhausted and overused poetic vocabulary and imagery, which the author apparently wants to eschew. Further complicating matters, the poet makes appeal to fantasy and the supernatural by claiming to be fadatz (l. 11), under the spell of an enchantment of some sort that causes him to experience the imaginative and affective void he describes. In part an attempt at originality and expression of disdain for commonplaces, the song, however, goes beyond clever conceptual reversals and wordplay, challenging its listeners with a puzzle, a devinalh, that interrogates not just the nature of the poet's own craft and of the powers of imagination, but of the courtly life as experienced by subjects like William. Suggesting the possibility of specific identifications of historical figures and powers, as solutions to the riddle, this essay proposes that the imaginative escape from positive meaning is a strategy of indirection and a response to the intense pressures and dangers of the political, sexual and other forms of competition between William, as lord of Poitiers and Aquitaine, and the lords of Anjou, France and Normandy. In that situation, the exercise in negative imagination is an expression of the unspeakable anxieties attendant to the life of aristocrats during the courtly era, states of mind in significant ways prefiguring the angst, depression and state of chronic (dis)stress that characterize the mental and emotional lives of modern and postmodern subjects.
J. Michael Fulton, Oral Roberts University, OK: “Fantasy and Imagination as Coping Mechanisms: Observations on the Inquisitorial Trial of Fray Luis de León
Fray Luis de León’s Inquisitorial trial (1572-76) has been commented extensively, and recent critical inquiry has shed considerable light on the legal minutiae of this famous incident. However, certain aspects of the trial have yet to be fully explored. One of the most intriguing details of this case is the fact that despite major health issues and a total prohibition on the possession of paper, Fray Luis managed to write extensively during his imprisonment. Recent research on trauma and coping offer key insights into how that process of writing would have insulated Fray Luis against the emotional trauma of five years of solitary confinement. This paper will analyze how engaging the imagination through writing served as a buffer against the strain of prolonged isolation. Specifically, the two main works Fray Luis began in prison—De los nombres de Cristo and an exposition on the book of Job—were both composed in dialogue form. There is extensive evidence to suggest that this use of fantasy—imagining conversations between multiple interlocutors—helped alleviate the loneliness Fray Luis struggled with during the trial.
Emmy Herland, Department of Spanish and Portuguese Studies
University of Washington: Phantom Fear: Projections of the Mind and Their Distortion of Reality in Baroque Spanish Theater
Our emotions can create monsters. In Lope de Vega’s 1632 play The Knight from Olmedo, jealousy is described as “a chimera made of envy, wind and darkness, which alters the things we imagine into a phantom that appears at night, a thought that drives us mad, and a lie that is called truth” (Act 2 403-408). In the end, though, it is fear that creates the ghost, not jealousy, as the play’s protagonist encounters a shadow figure moments before his own death. When Alonso asks the figure who he is, the figure’s only response is to repeat Alonso’s own name, indicating that he is, perhaps, Alonso’s ghost. Fearing for his life, Alonso has imagined a projection of that fear and thereby distorted his perception of reality.
The ghost in this play functions as an omen; Alonso encountering his own ghost indicates that he is essentially dead before he dies and that his death is therefore predestined. Somewhat contradictorily, the ghost’s origin reveals a profound ambiguity or uncertainty. If Alonso is able to meet and speak with an imagined projection of his own mind and believe it to be reality, then reality cannot be objective. In this paper, I will show that these two elements of the ghost are at odds, allowing for a reality that is both structured and predetermined as well as malleable and individually-constructed. This apparent contradiction is reflective of the baroque period in which the play was written and produced, indicating both a desire to believe in an ordered and an underlying fear that maybe one does not exist.
Filip Hrbek, Jan Evangelista Purkyne University, Usti nad Labem, Czech Republic: Fantastic Places, Objects, and Creatures in the Czech-language Epic in the 14th Century – A Probing into Imagination of Czech Lands in the Reign of the Late Medieval Luxembourg Dynasty.
Jacques Le Goff postulated that mirabilia are objects, places or creatures which were admired with astonishment during the Middle Ages – therefore we can say that mirabilia were specific reflections of reality which people marvelled at. These things left the feeling of “supernaturalness” which was inexplicable by the reason or through the Scripture. Although Le Goff worked predominately with the milieu of the European West in the Middle Ages, it is indisputable that his classification of mysteriousness (fantastic) is possible to apply even for the area of the Czech medieval state - if we take into consideration local specifics which are yet an integral part of the European medieval culture.
The Czech medieval literature was written in three different languages – Latin, German and Czech. Each of these languages had its “own” primary audience, though there cannot be any doubt about the bilingualism (or even trilingualism) of some groups of inhabitants, if we take into account the distinctive character and the functioning of the Czech medieval state. The Latin belonged to the most educated groups of intellectuals and clerics. Because of the tight connections with the German culture, the German language was an integral part of lives of burghers, merchants, counsellors to the king, diplomats – all who cared about the foreign affairs or trade. Whereas the Czech remained the language of common inhabitants of towns and villages, craftsmen, peasants, farmers, the gentry, or also the language of those who wanted to speak to this majority population or to gain its favour (see the Czech reformers of the 14th and 15th centuries).
The objectives of this study are Czech-written chivalric epic texts from the 14th century, which are based on older foreign (German) texts. Analysed are prosaic texts and also texts in verse. All those texts became so popular in the Czech milieu that they were rewritten repeatedly until the modern history and some passages or themes became a lasting part of the collective imagination in the Czech lands. My aim is to show which fantastic places, objects or creatures were known in the medieval Czech language and to prove that the population of the Czech state at the era of the Luxembourg dynasty belonged to the Latin milieu of the European West not only politically, but also with its imagination, partially formed by chivalric epics, originally coming from different states than the Czech one.
Isidro Luis Jimenez, University of Arizona: The Myth of the Amazons
In Western culture, the myth of the Amazons has embodied the symbolic existence of a gynocracy at the cultural and geographical margins of masculine control. My presentation explores the origin of the myth in classic sources and how the Amazons appeared recurrently in Medieval Spanish literature through Summae, Historiae, travel books, the Libro de Alexandre, chronicles and chivalric romances, and analyzes how the myth had a significant importance in understanding and comprehending the new American space and cultural otherness in Early Modern period.
Amazons and their narrative perpetuated in Medieval Spain; early Christian scholars like Saint Isidore of Seville repeated Hellenistic and Latin topics of the myth. Medieval Hispanic travel books, like Latin or Castilian translations of Marco Polo and Mandeville's El libro del conosçimiento de todos los reinos and Embajada a Tamorlán, a realistic report of an expedition to Central Asia composed by González de Clavijo, reproduce either the myth or similar characteristics, such as feminine islands or bizarre sexual behavior in exotic women. Historiae and summae embed Amazons in a general universal history. The formation of the group of feminine warriors is described, as well as their relationship with Goths, their involvement in the war of Troy, and the aforementioned encounter with Alexander the Great. Different, individualized queens appear in chronological order: Hippolyta, Penthesilea, and Thalestris. Legends concerning Alexander the Great became extremely popular in medieval Europe, and increasingly feminized Amazons and the Macedonian conqueror appeared in the Libro d´Alixandre, mostly based on Germanic sources. Finally, in late medieval Hispanic texts strongly influenced by Boccaccio and Christine de Pizan, Amazons evolved into affectionate characters in sentimental literature. Rodríguez del Padrón composed a poem depicting a Penthesilea being able to suffer because of the death of a beloved man.
Robert Landau Ames, Ph.D.--Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University: On Monstrosity in Iran’s National Epic: Philosophizing with Zahhak
Although studies of the Iranian national epic, the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi (d. 1019 or 1025), abound, few attend closely to the role of monsters or monstrosity as such. Instead, most research on medieval Islamicate literatures that has explicitly addressed the theme has done so not by studying classical Persian poetry, but instead, by studying prose compendia of wonders (known as ‘aja’ib and ghara’ib in Arabic and Persian). I aim to correct this by studying one character from the Shahnameh, the serpent-shouldered king Zahhak as a monster.
As the Shahnameh tells the myth, Zahhak is an Arab prince who the devil convinces to commit patricide, invade and conquer Iran, and kill its king (Jamshid). Following Zahhak’s conquest of Iran, the devil appears again and kisses Zahhak’s shoulders. After the kiss, a voraciously hungry serpent grows from each of Zahhak’s shoulders, and he rules over Iran for a millennium, attempting to sate his snakes’ hunger by feeding them the brains of Iranian youths all the while. A rebellion led by the blacksmith Kaveh eventually overthrows Zahhak and restores a native Iranian, Fereydun, to the throne.
While most interpretations of this myth tend to focus on its apparent nationalist dimensions, I intend to focus on Zahhak’s monstrosity instead; although, in Ferdowsi’s telling, he is a human king from whose shoulders snakes grow, in earlier Iranian mythology, Zahhak was a dragon; in Avestan Persian, he was known as Azhi Dahaka, from which both the word Zahhak and the New Persian word for dragon, ezhdeha, derive. These draconic origins, alongside the grotesque content of Ferdowsi’s telling of the myth and Zahhak’s apparent ability to overturn Iran’s moral and political order, make a strong case for his monstrosity.
Hester Oberman, The University of Arizona: Imagination in the Age of Science: Psychology, Religion, and the Thirst for Certainty in the 21st Century
This paper will explore the resiliency of the power of imagination in an age dominated by a seemingly unquenchable thirst for hard facts and data points. Medieval infused fantasies are alive and well in the 21st century as illustrated by the lucrative online gaming industry and the blockbuster HBO series Game of Thrones. However, fantasy is not only a vehicle to escape the everyday, our imagination can also be reality-directed. Arguments by the epistemologist Timothy Williamson that imagination and fantasy are not synonyms nor rationality its antonym, will be explored as well as myrmecologist E. O. Wilson’s theory that religious dreams and illusion have played an intricate role in the evolution of kin selection and eusociality. This paper will integrate Rene Girard’s use of the power of projection of desire to explain the profound human experience of being deficient which leads to mimetic rivalry and violence and Paul Ricœur claim that despite the Death of God and the demystification of the cosmos, we still ask the age-old questions of who am I? where do I come from? and where I am going? These existential human yearnings for transcendental answers address the borderlands beyond calculated reason where other ways of knowing rule supreme and science plays catch-up to explain and justify its rationale.
Doaa Omran, University of New Mexico: The Arabic Saif Ben Dhī Yazan and the European King Arthur: Two Folk Heroes and the National Epic
In his Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson defines a nation as "an imagined political community - and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign." Among the things that shape the identity and unite the people of a certain community and make it sovereign in the conscience of its subjects are folk epics, such as those of King Arthur and the Arabic Saif Ben Zi Yazan. The latter is a heroic Yemenite king who lived in the sixth-century on the Arabian Peninsula. Saif Ben Dhī Yazan united the Muslim tribes against the Christian Abyssinians who occupied his land from 525 till 572. Similarly, the English King Arthur defeated the (metaphoric) dragon and united the English into a nation in the early medieval times. Using Anderson’s theory, I illustrate in this paper how the process of identity formation in the national epic primarily depends on the mythical in creating a collective national consciousness–to put it in Carl Jung’s words. By depicting the similarities between the Arabic heroic epic and its English counterpart, I will be able to prove how the mythical motifs (such as the hero’s mythical birth, fairy mother and defeat of a beast) constitute the basic blueprint of folktales from both traditions, bringing in the study of archetypes to the field of medieval post-colonial literature. These fields have always been regarded as separate entities. By introducing the epic of Saif Ben Zi Yazan as an Arabic Arthur, and wielding the postcolonial with the archetypal and the mythical, I argue that both literary critical tropes function in a complementary manner in such nationalistic narratives.
Martha Moffitt Peacock, Brigham Young University: The Mermaid of Edam
In the medieval and early modern eras, legends of mermaids had been described in collections of tales know as spinning yarns in France and the Low Countries. Furthermore, the mermaid had been employed in emblem books, such as Cesare Ripa’s Noua iconologia di Cesare Ripa perugino, caualier de SS. Mauritio & Lazzaro. In such contexts, the mermaid with comb and mirror could symbolize a number of vices such as vanity and lust. For Dutch women, however, the mermaid had a more current and patriotic significance. This was embodied in the legendary figure, the Mermaid of Edam. According to accounts first appearing in the fifteenth century, a mermaid from the Zuider sea had floated into the Purmer lake in Edam during the flood of 1403. When the waters receded and the dikes were closed, the mermaid was trapped and captured. Afterwards, her green seaweed covering was washed away, and she learned to live like a human. Citizens of Haarlem soon found out about this phenomenal woman and they persuaded her to come dwell with them. Here she was taught how to spin, and according to a poem published in 1645 by Caspar van Wachtendorp, she could do it very well. Because she began to attract numbers of curious visitors, the sea-wife soon became a symbol of civic pride in both Edam and Haarlem. By the seventeenth century, artistic representations of this mermaid began to occur in sculpture and prints as a means of celebrating her fame and the prestige she brought to these two Dutch cities. Her story with illustrations was also repeated in sensationalist histories during the Golden Age, which enhanced the collective memory of this fantastic creature. But perhaps of even greater interest is the Mermaid of Edam’s eventual materialization as a motif in the decorative needlework of samplers, or merklappen. In these art works stitched by young women of the Republic, the mermaid occurs in conjunction with a number of other patriotic signifiers such as coats of arms and allegorical figures. And because these embroidery skills were learned at school, it appears that the Mermaid of Edam’s story must have been part of the curriculum. In this manner the peculiar creature became an unusual role model for the young sewers themselves via her own legendary handwork. Thus, the durability of this fantastic legend appears to have stemmed from the mermaid’s ability to inspire diligence, skill, and patriotism.
Rosa A. Perez, Southern Utah University: The Jewish Body: Aspects of an Imaginary Construction in Medieval France
Until the final expulsion of the Jews in 1394, anti-Judaism was common in medieval France, and the acts of violence it engendered were numerous and recurrent. In a climate of fear and distrust, the theological roots of this hatred fostered, among many, accusations of host desecration and blood libel. Christian perception of Jews, as inherently different, is manifest in various French texts: epic poems, fabliaux, religious plays, exempla, records in the acts of the Parliament of Paris and letters of pardon to name a few. In these texts, literary or other, depictions of Jews range from stereotypical, ridiculed characters, devious Jews using their knowledge of Hebrew to cast magic spells and make amulets, to descriptions of imaginary creatures with animal appendices like hoofs, horns and a tail. The differences imputed to a marginal group of men and women emphasize the important place Jews occupied in Christian imagination.
In this paper, I intend to examine, in a variety of literary texts and examples from archival records, how this imaginary could apply very differently to Jewish men and women.
Daniel F. Pigg, The University of Tennessee at Martin, Martin, TN 38238: Who is Grendel in Beowulf?: Ambiguity, Allegory, and Meaning
When readers encounter Beowulf, they meet a character, a monster, a misshapen humanoid, and a being linked with the descendants of Cain who are presented as trolls, elves, and the revenant. His heritage is mysterious, and his bodily status, challenging. Being the stuff of legend and found in a poem that is deeply rooted in the cultural memory of a people and written down by a literate poet who continually reminds readers that “we have heard” the story in an oral stage, Beowulf is thus subject to the kinds of reading that were common in the day. That is to say allegory is both found in the poem and would likely have been a part of the understanding of the poem. That Grendel is given bodily features is a product of need. In an earlier stage, Grendel might have represented fog, disease, or plague as scholars in the nineteenth century contended.
Whatever Grendel is, he represents the cultural other that is deeply encoded into the poem. He represents the embodiment of chaos that is always at the edges of the social order in Germanic society. The layering of imagery around him is purposeful, and it is in unpacking the various layers that readers see precisely the challenge represented in sixth-century Scandinavia. The ambiguity itself is purposeful. Does he have a glove, which would signal he is human? Does he have a claw that is tacked up on the wall in Heorot? Could he be the presentation of plague which was personified? From the beginning, the poet calls him a descendant of Cain, something that could be read in both literal but more likely symbolic ways. At some level, readers are more concerned about what he does rather than all the aspects of what he might
In the second portion of the poem, readers have been more easily persuaded to see the fire dragon whom Beowulf defeats and from whom Beowulf receives his death wound in terms of allegory. Beowulf has defeated greed in its symbolic manifestations. If modern readers follow a symbolic reading of the first portion of the poem, we may learn more about why Grendel has been such a significant terror to defeat. Grendel is a complex of images, and that complexity turns him into one of the most deadly creatures of the early Middle Ages. Grendel is the stuff of legend even as Hrothgar notes, but that he flares up at this particular point in time in Hrothgar’s court is not unusual. He is the literal and symbolic manifestation of problems in the Danes’ world.
John Pizer, Louisiana State University: Dream and Prophetic Projection in Andreas Gryphius’s Historical Tragedies: Traces of the Symbol
Particularly since Walter Benjamin’s Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels began to exercise a seminal influence on studies of German Baroque drama, scholars have highlighted allegory as the overarching representational mode of this genre. From this perspective, tragedy during this literary period eschews the symbol, employed to conjure a transcendent unity between aesthetic appearance and external facticity, between representational status and objective reality, even though that reality might be projected into the future. Bridging past and future, the symbol thus evokes a mode of transcendent timelessness. Allegory, by contrast, suggests a postlapsarian fallen human domain in which such continuity is effectively canceled. In conjuring a shattered, ruined world, allegory breaks the prelapsarian link between signifier and signified, representational form and represented content. To highlight this disjunction, Benjamin focused in his oeuvre on modes of experiencing such as dream and melancholic reflection that are seen to disrupt attempts at establishing symbolic continuity and found the Baroque mourning plays of Andreas Gryphius exemplary in this regard. My paper would argue that Gryphius employs fantasy and imagination in the dream sequences of his historical tragedies, but their prophetic projection into a realized future, the link between dream and history, must constellate the trace of a symbolic, indeed ontic link between onstage present-moment reverie and a historical reality to take place during or shortly after the dramatic time frame. To cite several examples: the chorus of landed-gentry in Leo Armenius debates whether dreaming and ghosts foreshadow an actual future, and a concluding “Zusatz” to the debate establishes that the heavens issue warnings through signs (“Zeichen”) even though those forewarned cannot escape their portended fate. Leo himself receives such portents in imaginative dream sequences, but because his downfall is realized in historical fact, a symbolic link between fantastic dream and its future realization is inevitably suggested. The same holds true for the eponymous heroine of Catharina von Georgien and the Persian king who instigated her martyrdom because she refused to become either his paramour or his bride. Relational dynamics like those between chief protagonist and chief royal villain in Catharina are at play for the imperial legal advisor Papinianus in Gryphius’s thusly titled tragedy and the Roman Emperor who has him put to death for refusing to judicially whitewash the latter’s murder of his half-brother; both experience fantastic dreams that become historically realized. There is a corporeal sensuousness to these imaginative reveries that sustains the somatic character of Benjaminian allegory, but they are nevertheless informed by the temporal and morphological transcendence of the symbol.
Kamran Talattof, University of Arizona: Faith, Facts, and Fantasy: Nezami's Portrayal of the Story of Ascension
Classical Persian literature is rich with the portrayal of and references to the story of the Ascension of the Prophet of Islam into heaven to meet God (mi'raj). According to the legend, the archangels Gabriel and Michael meet Prophet Muhammad and prepare him for his meeting with God. Gabriel and a winged mythical creature Buraq transport him overnight from Mecca to Jerusalem and then from Jerusalem to heaven, possibly using a ladder (). Mohammad and Gabriel proceed through seven levels of heaven to reach the throne of God. Numerous Persian poets have recast the story. Nezami (a 12th century Persian poet) has versified the story of the Ascension in almost all of his books. Generally, critics of Persian poetry take these representations as a sign of religious and/or mystic belief of the poets who presented them. This paper provides a comparative analysis of the portrayal of the story of Ascension in Nezami's works to find the main driving motive in his various portrayals and renditions of the story. The paper further compares Nezami's presentation of the Story of Ascension with those of other poets and religious authors. This inquiry is a continuation of my work on Nezami's poetry in showing the connection between his treatment of different themes and subjects and his dedication to métier as a wordsmith.
Scott L. Taylor: Monstra nobiscum: Medieval and Early Modern Teratology and the Confluence of Imaginatio and Scientia
This paper discusses a particular subset of mirabilia – that category of phenomena defined by Gervase of Tilbury as “quae nostrae cognitioni non subjacent etiam cum sint naturalia”, and sometimes called the praeternatural – as the realm of imagination wherein fantasy and science interface through the medium of intuition. More particularly, it will examine the medieval conceptualization of congenital abnormalities within four different aspects of “imagination”: (1) the “theological”, being the original sense of the word monstrum, wherein such anomalies or prodigia represented a divine portentum, whether beneficent or punitive, requiring interpretation; (2) the “folkloric”, whether fabula or superstitio, suggesting a minimal basis in the physical world; (3) the “intuitive”, suggesting rational insight and extrapolation from empirical data (cognitio); and (4) a specific theory of teratogenesis at least as old as Pliny based on maternal (or occasionally, paternal) imprinting or impressions which according to the noted Scottish physician and obstetrician, J.W. Ballyntine, survived in at least modified form throughout the nineteenth century and even into the early twentieth, albeit primarily in America (see, e.g., W.C. Dabney), having been largely abandoned in Europe by the end of the eighteenth century (although the concept was partially revived by Ian Stevenson of the U of Va. School of Medicine as late as 1992). Here, imagination will be conceived in a fashion similar to Sukorov’s voobrahenzie, literally the process of “image-making”, as a basic cognitive act of all human beings, and consistent with the working-definition of imagination adopted by Pelaprat and Cole derived in part from Vygotsky as “the process of resolving and connecting the fragmented, poorly coordinated experience of the world so as to bring about a stable image of the world,” a perspective that dovetails with the view that all language is metaphor. It also, chez Sukarov, emphasizes the future-oriented nature of imagination as a culturally-mediated psychological function, albeit largely ontogenetic, compared with “creativity” which is primarily socio-historical. It is argued that in terms of imagination, there is in many respects, contrary to Le Goff’s assertion that medieval people had a greater difficulty distinguishing between material and imaginary reality, little difference between the medieval and the early modern (and perhaps even the modern) imagination in terms of process or frequently even in content, certainly in the field of teratology. The larger difference occurs in the creative output, and that largely due to a difference in emphasis, proximate cause being the heart of the Baconian program of investigating praeternatural phenomena in contrast to the medieval concern with primary causality. The search for proximate cause which lent itself to a more systematic study, however, had little effect upon prevailing “images” relating to teratology – and indeed, often reinforced them - until it engendered technological advances that allowed for the collection of relevant data that could change the consensus of opinion, supporting the view of imagination as a necessary “gap-filler” between phylogenetically-constrained observer and object, wherein temporal and spatial differences relate largely to the size of the gap and the cultural resources available for reference.
David Tomicek, Usti nad Labem, CZ: Creatures of medieval maps and contemporary medicine
From the 13th century come two important cartographic works - Ebstorf map and Hereford map. Both maps, from the category of so called T-O maps, are exceptional by their size, function and information richness. These two maps show in detail geographical visions of the contemporary world, they narrate its history and also present a brief exposition of its facts. Both of these maps are based on encyclopaedic knowledge of the ancient and medieval science, likewise the scholastic medicine. The aim of this paper is to show the reciprocal thematic interconnection (or the common discursivity) of the medieval medicine and the cartography. From the above presented theme, three aspects are stressed – a) applicability of minerals and plants described in medieval map encyclopaedias in the contemporary medicine; b) correspondence between different descriptions of animals between the contemporary cartography and medicine; c) dietetic attributes of monstrous races. From the geographical point of view, this paper is focused on two continents, Asia and Africa.
Dr. Warren Tormey, Middle Tennessee State University, The Otherworldly, Demonic and Monstrous within the Anglo-Saxon Christian Imagination
How did the otherworldly, often demonic imagery serve within the patristic literature of Anglo-Saxons between the late sixth and middle eighth centuries? How did this imagery figure within the formation of the Anglo-Saxon Christian imagination? This presentation will examine this recurring feature of the Anglo-Saxon religious imagination: the fixation on figures that are portrayed with an excessive, seemingly gratuitous monstrousness that stands in opposition to an evolving conception of Christian, “saintly” identity. Emerging from the Dialogues of St. Gregory and figuring heavily the Saints’ Lives narrative tradition, but also evident in such landmark works as the otherworldly account of Brother Dryhthelm in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History and Life of St. Cuthbert, and also evident in Aelfric’s Sermons, these accounts are heavily reliant on a monstrous, horror-filled version of the hellish underworld. One vivid example is found in Felix’s Life of St. Guthlac, where the heroic warrior-hermit, living in isolation on the edge of the Northumbrian fenlands, encounters demons so monstrously hideous that the account borders on the comic. At points tortured, reptilian, noxious, diseased, deformed, and scrofulous, these demons seem calculated simultaneously to delight and disgust readers. A field of modern scholars, including Jeffrey Cohen and Paul Szarmach, have commented on the grotesque character of these accounts, associating them with the landscapes, politics, and social tensions of seventh and eighth century Northumbria. Building on this work and my own studies of the role of catabasis in epic narratives I hope to explore the relationship between the monstrous and otherworldly and the developing character of Christianity in seventh- and eighth-century Anglo-Saxon England.
Christa A. Tuczay, University of Vienna, Austria: Is dream prophecy gender related? Dream discourses in visionary and narrative literature
Although the study of dreams is generally associated with Freud and Jung, it is not well-known that Freund was in many respects inspired by his readings of the Onerokritka of Artemidor (2. century) also were people of Antiquity and the Middle Ages intensely interested in dreams and their meanings. As with other medieval literary forms, the dream vision, a genre unique to the period, was securely founded upon the medieval reverence for classical and ancient authorities. Although secular narrative literature adopted the dream vision and dream prophecy “only” or merely as a motif, it shows the intertextuality and interdependence of dream- and superstition discourses on the one hand and the debate about the truth of dreams and visons on the other.
Erec as one of many examples does not believe in prophetic dreams, as he is convinced, that belongs to naive women. So does Siegfried and others. In many accounts of the Middle High German narrative literature the fulfillment of dreams is a favored topic. The belief that some dreams come true and that there are principally dreams that become reality is not unknown. In late antiquity Artemidor has written a well-known treatise and manual for dream interpretation also Hans Lobenzweig (around 1430). A mutual influence between dream books and narrative literature has been rejected by scholars in the past and but is well worth considering again. (no talk, will be submitted to the final volume to be published).
Birgit Wiedl, Institute for Jewish History, St. Pölten, Austria: Jews in Christian imagination
The numerous depictions of Jews in theology, literature, sources of daily life, and iconography give testimony to the many ways Jews, imaginary ones as well as the actual Jewish population, fired the Christians' imagination. From the Old Testament Patriarchs and Good King David to their role as final witnesses to the Last Judgment, from positive/neutral portrayals to being the scapegoat for any misfortune that befell their Christian neighbors, Jews fulfilled many purposes. Their most important, and most fateful, role was to serve as a negative foil for Christian behavior in the course of polemics. Christian speculation as to in what ways Jews were different led to ideas of 'Jewish' sexuality and a physiognomy specific to Jews, of the odor iudaicus and of menstruation Jewish men and their subsequent need for Christian blood, ideas which, ultimately, aimed at proving their un-humanness. The paper will try to give a brief overview of the multitude of perceptions of Jews as well as explore some of them in more detail.
Tom Willard, The University of Arizona: Fantasy, Imagination, and Vision in Thomas Vaughan’s Lumen de Lumine (1651)
In a book subtitled “A New Magicall Light Discovered and Communicated to the World,” the Welsh alchemist Thomas Vaughan included a remarkable engraving of his own design. Entitled “Scholae Magicae Typus,” it offered an “image of the school of magic” or what he called an emblem or map of this school. Although the engraving has been widely reproduced, its sources have not yet been identified, nor has the Latin text he offered as a partial explanation. This paper will trace both image and text to early German books of Rosicrucianism and will suggest how the engraving’s vignettes trace different varieties of consciousness that Vaughan associates with initiation into secrets of nature. The paper will place the workings of fantasy, imagination, and vision within the context of classical faculty psychology but also in that of contemporary theories of esoteric thinking, including that of Wilhelm Schmidt-Biggemann.
Ladies, Witches, and Warriors: Fantasizing Feminine Power in Medieval Andalusian Narratives
Through the analysis of the twelfth-century Andalusian narrative, Al-Ziyad ibn ‘Amir al-Kanini, this paper will explore how the imagination of the primary character al-Ziyad transforms feminine power into highly sexualized supernatural female characters. The narrative uses the eroticized and imagined tales of divine ladies, metamorphosing sorcerers, and tricky genies (jinn) to weave a wondrous tale of adventure and love. It is, however, this same transformation of feminine power into the supernatural and the male protagonists’ desire to overcome, master, and subjugate that will be the focus of this investigation.