‘Unnatural’ Bodies?: Nicknames of ‘Disability’(or ‘Impairment’) in Early Medieval England
St Cross College, University of Oxford
Nicknames in early medieval England (c.410 – 1100) are remarkably frequent, and cover a range of themes. While clearly functioning to help distinguish between similarly named individuals, it is also clear that nicknames helped to create and reinforce public identities – both in the eyes of the self and the community. Of particular interest are those names that appear to reference physical ‘disabilities’. Building of a theoretical distinction between ‘impairment’ and ‘disability’, we are met with the question of function of these nicknames. Are they intended as simple observations, distinguishing between individuals with the same forename by referencing physical features, or are they intended as tools for mockery and alienation? While a subsection of nicknames that reference impairments that may represent judicial mutilation exist, perhaps weaponizing naming as another tool of alienation, the terminology employed in ‘impairment’ nicknames does not appear to be overtly exclusionary in its intentions.
Tristan Alphey is a PhD student at St Cross College, University of Oxford. His research into early medieval English ‘nicknames’ looks to explore the socio-cultural role played by nicknames, and their ability to regulate social norms and define communities.
The Authorship of the Late Eleventh-Century Annals of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
Prof Daniel Anlezark
University of Sydney
The authorship of the late eleventh-century annals of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, like all the annals, is anonymous. The Old English annals after 1079 survive now only in the Peterborough Chronicle, or E text. Cecily Clark has observed that the “dating, authorship, and provenance” of these annals is difficult to describe with any certainty. The Peterborough Chronicle was made c.1121 at St Peter’s Abbey, perhaps to replace a version that had been lost in the great fire of 1116, though certainly with the purpose of making a Chronicle incorporating new material about the abbey’s history. For the mid-eleventh-century entries, E’s annals are substantially based on a version with close Canterbury connections incorporated either at Christ Church or St Augustine’s; the provenance of the annals later in the century is less clear.
This paper explores a range of evidence for the authorship of E’s late-eleventh-century annals, extending from 1079 into the first decade of the twelfth century. The annals of the late reign of William I and that of his son William Rufus often develop new approaches to historical writing, albeit under the influence of earlier annals. At the end of William I’s reign we encounter a newly enlivened narration, with the intervention of an opinionated first-person voice. Across the 1090s, the annals develop a structure that is increasingly formulaic, a changing character, which beside linguistic changes, signals a change in authorship. While previous discussions have suggested possible seams between different authors, to date there has been no detailed focus on changes of authorship or possible provenance within these annals. In an attempt to set this discussion of a firmer foundation, I examine the linguistic and other evidence that the annals present to delineate the probable contributions of different writers. My main focus is on vocabulary, though authorial interests and styles are also discussed. The text also offers clues about when these annals might have been written. In total, the differing types of evidence for authorship reveal new interests in, and approaches to, historical writing in the late eleventh century, probably at Christ Church, Canterbury.
Restoring the Conditions of Eden: St Maximus the Confessor on a Life Free from Technê
Dr Chris Baghos
University of Sydney
In this paper, I will examine St Maximus the Confessor’s discussions of the ancestral fall (Genesis 3) and its effect on the created order, as well as the remedial function that he attributed to Christian asceticism. To this end, I will discuss Maximus’ method for developing a proper understanding of the sensible and intelligible worlds and, through them, God (to the extent that this is possible for human beings). I will subsequently explore how the Confessor’s experiential epistemology reflects the monastic life common throughout the Eastern outskirts of the Roman Empire during Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages. Moreover, I will assess Maximus’ conception of the ascetic’s progression through the ‘garments of skin’ mentioned in Gen 3:21 to an existential mode no longer characterised by common human necessities, including technê as postlapsarian cognition and artistic and scientific output. My intention is to demonstrate that Maximus has provided the philosophical framework through which we should interpret the restoration of Eden often attributed to the subjects of not only Byzantine hagiographies, but also those of the Continent and the Insular world, at least as concerns the first millennium.
Service to God, in this world and the next: early medieval Gallic epitaphs
A/Prof Lisa Kaaren Bailey
University of Auckland
Epitaphs are one of the first places scholars look for ideas about the afterlife. They articulate commonly shared perceptions of ‘what comes next’, and how a Christian should prepare themselves for it. One of the motifs which connected this life and the afterlife in epitaphs was the model of service as piety. Early medieval Gallic epitaphs are full of the imagery of service, to a degree which has not yet been properly noticed or remarked upon. Service imagery in hagiographies has usually been depicted as an example of ‘inversion’, in which social elites enacted dramatic social reversals – humiliating themselves as part of an ascetic regime. However, the prevalence of the imagery of service indicates that this was a widely understood and appreciated way for many Gallic Christians to articulate the relationship between their actions in the living world and the rewards they would receive in the coming one. This imagery cuts across boundaries between lay Christians and the professional religious, and can be found at a range of social levels. The ‘naturalness’ of service became a way to imagine the unknown supernatural which lay beyond.
Lisa Kaaren Bailey is Associate Professor in the departments of History, and Classics and Ancient History at the University of Auckland. She is currently working on a monograph entitled: Servants of God, Slaves of the Church which explores the conjunction between the ideal of ‘service to God’ and the realities of service to religious institutions in late antique and early medieval Gaul.
Om Ormar and Risaþjóðir: adapting Natural History from Isidore to Iceland.
Dr Santiago Barreiro
Pontificia Universidad Católica Argentina
The corpus of Medieval Icelandic learned literature contains two brief texts, on reptilians and monstrous peoples respectively, which largely derive from earlier Latin sources. These, known as Om Ormar (“About Serpents”) and Risaþjóðir (“Giant Peoples”) exist within compilations of diverse matters of knowledge within a late fourteenth-century manuscript preserved in the Arnamagnean collection in Reykjavík: AM 194, 8vo (the second text also exists in the later AM 731, 4to). While the ultimate source for both is clearly Isidore’s Etymologies, the aim of this talk is to trace the possible path of textual transformation and other possible sources for both texts. It will be argued that they show influences ranging from Albert the Great’s De Animalibus to vernacular traditions on local beings, even if they display a clearly distinct approach to the knowledge of living beings displayed in the better known vernacular genres of Icelandic literature such as the sagas and Eddaic poems.
Santiago Barreiro is an Adjunct Researcher at the Institute for Research on the Social Sciences at the Catholic University of Buenos Aires in Argentina. He specialises in Old Norse society, with a particular focus on the representation of economic relationships in the saga corpus. He has published several books and articles, including the first Spanish-language translations for Hoensa-Thóris saga and Bjarnar saga.
Worldview and the Gotland Picture Stones
University of Sydney
The Gotland picture stones are a unique group of artifacts located on the Swedish island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea. Many of them date from the early part of the Viking Age and thus represent some of the oldest and most authentic evidence of the period. In this paper I will talk about a group of picture stones that supposedly depict scenes from Old Norse myth. However, to make these identifications we usually rely on much later medieval Icelandic sources, which creates source-critical problems. My approach circumvents this issue somewhat. Instead, I utilize the concept of a ‘Scandinavian worldview’ and how this permeates both the written and visual material. To do this I shall focus on the arrangement of the material, such as the placement of a scene or character high or low on the stone. I will argue that the existence of a shared Scandinavian worldview allows us to identify a myth or mythic trope without all the narrative elements necessarily being present.
Manu has recently completed his PhD in Old Norse studies at the University of Sydney with a thesis which examines the idea of space and movement in relation to the Old Norse mythological world and the various characters within. He is currently a Research Assistant for Prof Daniel Anlezark and is converting his thesis into a book as well as preparing several articles for publication based on thesis chapters.
The Worship of the Sun and the Dread of Night in Part One of Beowulf
James the Howard Buckingham
The oldest epic in both English and Nordic literature is Beowulf, from the Land of the cold North, where the Sun is favorable and Night, especially the long nights of Winter, is unfavorable.
In the very beginning of Beowulf, the narrator talks of the “moons of terror/mōn-egū,” from tribes, the “nightly terrors.” Night is not just the opposite of day, but the day/sun is life and night is death. Even their two rune marks contrast with each other: the sun/sigel rune ᛋ versus the nȳd/need, night rune ᚾ. The Anglo-Saxon/Nordic pagan duality coincides with the Christian concept as well of light (good) versus dark (evil).
As the poem unfolds, Night is associated with terror (5a), the greatest of evils (193b), grief for the horses of the Sun (414a), the end of the warriors’ sun (600), Grendel (702b), sleep and Death (741a). The Sun is associated with a bright beacon (569b-570a), alu/blessings (605-7), a Máni-gift (689b), her horses and expectations (709b), a summit and success (926-7), chalk/cement and the holding of the Sun, holding of the day (939b) and dwelling in the House of the friends of Ing (1043b-1044a).
James the Howard Buckingham is a writer, poet, word-lover, etymologist, translator, scholar and a retired high school English teacher. He graduated summa cum laude from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with a BA in English (Creative Writing and Literary Studies) and Minor in Theatre, with later teacher certifications in Secondary English and Speech. His research interests currently focus on the Old English poem Beowulf and its translation.
Celestial bodies (أفالك): Cosmology in Islamic Astronomy, Philosophy, and Theology (9th-13th centuries)
Universidad Complutense of Madrid
The paper presents Ibn Taymīyah’s (s. XIII) response to al-Fārābī (IX), Ibn Sīnā (X), Abū Bakr al-Rāzī (X) and Ibn Rushd (XII) celestial bodies (aflāk) cosmologies in 1) their circularity (istidārah), according to Arab-Persian astronomy (‘ilm al-falak), 2) their possibility (mumkinah) and necessity (ūajibah) in Muslim philosophy (falsafah) and 3) whether they are created (muḥdathāh) or eternal (azalīah), according to Islamic theology (‘aqīdah).
The analysis of Ibn Taymīyah’s legal, logical, theological, and philosophical works in Arabic concludes that the circularity and movement of the spheres is an irrefutable fact from Islamic religious cosmology, their movement is voluntary (irādīah) and depends on no other than divine command; and he further proposes that the celestial movements of the Celestial bodies do not influence the terrestrial ones and vice versa, as proposed by astrology (al-tanjīm).
The author formulates that the natural Celestial bodies – the sun, the moon, and the stars (al-nujūm) – are both possible by themselves (bi-dhatihi) and necessary (ḍarūrīah) by the supernatural Creator, unlike the philosophical arguments about the necessary being (uājib al-ūjūd) as the sequential origin of the Celestial bodies but not an etiological relationship between them.
The paper shows an Islamic critical reading inside Muslim medieval East and West thought itself far from eurocentrism or medieval orientalism.
Völur, Angel of Death and the Rest: otherworldly women in Norse narratives past and present
Dr Lillian Céspedes González
This paper aims to explore the subject of the abundance of otherworldly female entities in Norse mythology which are intertwined with the natural and spiritual realm. We will look into their origins (when known or possible) and their cultural significance within the wider context of Norse society. Furthermore, the investigation will use not just traditional old Norse material for understanding this subject, but it will lean onto the field of medievalism and popular culture to see how these characters are represented and what does that say about our understanding or appeal to the otherworldly Norse women.
Dr Lillian Cespedes Gonzalez is a cultural scholar specialising in the way Norse culture is portrayed in modern visual media and the power medievalism has in modern society and our culture. She has a PhD in history from the University of Winchester (UK). Over the last decade she has been working in this field and publishing material related either directly to the Vikings in popular culture, or the use of comics to understand our modern-day society, and how these intermingle.
The Uncanny Melusine: The Impact of Hidden Forces in Nature on Human Society
Dist. Prof Albrecht Classen
University of Arizona
Visitors to many different medieval castles might encounter curious candle holders, so-called ‘Luesterweibchen’. They always depict a woman half human and half animal, the Melusine. Art historians have rarely dealt with that object, but there is not much research on it at all. This calendabra originated from the literary account of this mysterious woman who is a kind of fairy who wants to rejoin human society but who is ultimately betrayed by her husband when he breaks a taboo she had imposed on him. That forces her to return to her fairy world where she has to wait until the Day of Judgment to regain her human shape. The myth of Melusine can be traced back to the twelfth century (Walter Map and Gervasius of Tilbury), and we find also depictions already in mosaic works in Otranto (eleventh century). The full literary development set in, however, only with Jean d’Arras (1393), Couldrette (ca. 1400), and Thuering von Ringoltingen (1456). The French and German prose novels experienced a tremendous popularity far into the sixteenth and seventeenth century. Here we face an extraordinarily telling example of the interaction between (deep/hidden) nature and human society. My paper will trace the development of this motif and then analyze in particular the enormous attraction which this magical creature has exerted throughout the centuries.
Zoomorphic representations in Ninth-Century Anglo-Saxon England
Pablo Martín Crovetto
University of Buenos Aires
Nature stood as an integral pillar in the Anglo-Saxon world, woven deeply into the fabric of their culture, beliefs, and artistic expressions, embodying a profound connection that resonated throughout their society. The Book of Cerne (MS Ll. 1. 10), a significant manuscript from the Anglo-Saxon era, unveils a captivating interplay between art and text. This paper delves into the realm of Anglo-Saxon art within this manuscript, with a particular focus on the portrayal of animals. By exploring the sources of inspiration behind these artistic renderings, we gain insight into the cultural and symbolic significance attributed to animals in Anglo-Saxon society, most particularly in the early 9th century. Through a careful analysis of the artwork and its relationship with the accompanying text, this study reveals the intricate tapestry woven between visual representations and written narrative, shedding light on the profound connections and meanings embedded within the Book of Cerne’s artistic depictions of animals.
Pablo Martín Crovetto is an educator with a BA in English Education from Instituto Superior del Profesorado “Dr. Joaquín V. Gonzalez,” where he teaches Medieval English History. Currently, Pablo is pursuing his MA in Medieval Studies at the University of Buenos Aires. His dissertation explores the captivating world of Anglo-Saxon art. Beyond academia, Pablo is a creative writer, delving into themes of identity and self-discovery through his fiction.
Wulfila, the Gothic Bible, and the Mission to the Goths: Rethinking the ‘Apostle to the Goths’ in Light of Homoian Theology, Conversion as a Strategy of Empire, and Fourth-Century Social and Cultural Transformations
Prof Carole Cusack
University of Sydney
Wulfila (c. 311-c. 383) translated the Bible into Gothic, creating the first literary text in a Germanic language. His biography is contested (his parentage, place of birth, consecration as a bishop, and theological orthodoxy are all disputed). The fourth century saw heated debates about the Trinity, and Goths were often termed ‘Arians’, though the African heresiarch Arius (c. 250-336) and his teachings were not directly transmitted to them. This paper builds on a recent rebirth of interest in Wulfila, his mission, and the Gothic Bible, taking Marilyn Dunn’s suggestion that Homoian (a more neutral term than Arian) theology was a bridge between Catholic monotheism and Gothic polytheism as the starting point for a re-examination of Wulfila’s evangelism as both an imperially mandated strategy and the creation of a route into civilisation and modernity for the Goths. Christianity was modern and fashionable in the fourth century, and Germans wishing to abandon their status as pagani (rustics) or heathens (heath-dwellers, not civilised city dwellers) viewed conversion as a move ‘up’. The Gothic Bible played a role in developing Gothic literacy, but was also a magical object, the first of its kind, a book/ roadmap for a people undergoing a great cultural transformation.
Carole M. Cusack is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Sydney. She trained as a medievalist and her doctorate was published as Conversion Among the Germanic Peoples (Cassell, 1998). She now researches primarily in contemporary religious trends and Western esotericism. Her books include (with Katharine Buljan) Anime, Religion and Spirituality: Profane and Sacred Worlds in Contemporary Japan (Equinox, 2015), Invented Religions: Imagination, Fiction and Faith (Ashgate, 2010), and The Sacred Tree: Ancient and Medieval Manifestations (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011). She edited (with Alex Norman) Handbook of New Religions and Cultural Production (Brill, 2012) and (with Pavol Kosnáč), Fiction, Invention and Hyper-reality: From Popular Culture to Religion (Routledge, 2017). With Rachelle Scott (University of Tennessee, Knoxville) she edits the journal Fieldwork in Religion.
William of Malmesbury’s Polyhistor and Pliny’s Natural History
Dr Lola Sharon Davidson
University of Sydney
William of Malmesbury (c.1095-1143) was the most important English historian of the twelfth century and the most important since Bede. He is best known for his History of the English Bishops, his History of the English Kings, and its contemporary continuation, the New History. A considerably more obscure work by William is the Polyhistor, a florilegium in three books which survives only in two fourteenth-century copies. Book I consists almost entirely of excerpts from Pliny’s Natural History. As a monk, William found it necessary to justify his use of pagan authors and particularly their accounts of omens which implied the existence of pagan deities operating through the natural world. The criteria for William’s selections can be difficult to discern, but he appears particularly interested in relationships between people and animals. His excerpts focus on personal ties and on animals behaving in an anthropomorphic manner. In this paper I will explore what William’s choices and declared aims tell us about this highly learned monk’s attitude to the natural world and what he considered it appropriate to communicate to the book’s ostensible audience, the monk Guthlac.
Lola Sharon Davidson holds a Maitrise Specialisée in Anthropology from the Université de Paris VII and a PhD in medieval European history from the University of Sydney, as well being the president of the Sydney Medieval and Renaissance Group. She has published on medieval European religious history, the history of the Indian Ocean region, Australian economic and corporate history and yoga. Her particular interests are female heretics and medieval dreams. She is currently finishing a translation of a twelfth-century dream treatise and editing a translation of the Polyhistor.
What Have We Here? Riddlic Elements in Other Old English Poems
Dr Bob DiNapoli
Scholar at Large
This talk is taken from a draft of the penultimate chapter of a book I am now near to completing (under contract to Cambridge Scholars Publishing), titled The Dark Glass: Reading Old English Riddles, in which I conduct a broad survey of the Exeter Book riddles, grouped in chapters under various thematic headings. My interest throughout is to ask how the riddles work as poetry, with particular attention to the cognitive and other psychological postures of author/speaker and audience and the linguistic texture of the riddles themselves. In this chapter, I turn to other genres of Old English poetry to consider poems not usually regarded as riddles, which nonetheless exhibit riddlic qualities. The prosopopoeia of the cross’s discourse in The Dream of the Rood is an obvious starting point, followed by poems such as The Advent Lyrics and the temptations of Adam and Eve from Genesis B, which exploit different kinds of cognitive uncertainty or instability, in a manner surprisingly similar to that of the riddles.
Bob DiNapoli has lectured in Old and Middle English literature at universities in North America, England and Australia. He now conducts a weekly poetry discussion-group and works with a number of individual students, translating and discussing Old English poems in their entirety. His books include A Far Light: A Reading of Beowulf (2016) Reading Old English Wisdom: The Fetters in the Frost (2021) as well as two books of poetry, Engelboc (2019) and The Gnostic Hotel (2021), with the next, Museum, slated for publication later this year by Littlefox Press. His translation and discussion of the Exeter Book riddles, The Dark Glass, is due to be published in 2024 by Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
Evolution and Classification of Medieval Bestiaries: Insights from 150 Years of Research
Dr Ilya Dines
Library of Congress, Washington DC
In the last 150 years, medieval bestiaries have become a subject of serious scientific research. Scholars have made various attempts to classify these intriguing texts, and James-McCulloch-Yapp’s classification has gained widespread acceptance. My talk will focus on the reasons and outcomes of changes observed in medieval bestiaries over time. Drawing from my 20 years of research in this field, I will propose a novel approach to classification. Additionally, I will explore the critical question of why there is a substantial number of bestiaries belonging to different groups and examine the diverse audiences they were written for. By shedding light on these aspects, my research aims to offer new insights into the cultural significance and evolution of medieval bestiaries, contributing to the broader understanding of these fascinating texts.
Ilya Dines works as a codicology specialist in the Law Library of the Library of Congress. He has been working on bestiaries for more than 20 years. Among his works are a Critical Edition of Bestiaries of the Third Family and 20 articles on the topic of bestiaries and animals in the Middle Ages.
Natural Meets Ritual: When Everyday Objects are Buried with the Dead
If artefacts are found in a settlement context, we assume that they had practical functions. When artefacts are found in funerary contexts, we assume that the same types of objects gained symbolic, spiritual, and ritual functions. This paper examines a variety of grave good types from early medieval Britannia (4th-8th centuries AD) and from late antique and early medieval Dalmatia (6th-9th centuries AD). It explores how these grave goods are interpreted and how inter-regional comparison may affect these interpretations. Grave goods found in Britannia are generally thought to have had symbolic functions, such as displaying social status and gender identity. Grave goods from late antique and early medieval Dalmatia however, are generally interpreted to be symbols of religion and ethnicity. Neither consider in any detail whether the communities that buried their dead with grave goods believed in life after death. Is it possible that an artefact that was useful in everyday life could be also useful to the dead? This question is very difficult to answer without explanatory and descriptive text and image. However, this paper will also consider how we might interpret grave good deposition if we consider the hypothetical idea that these communities believed in afterlife.
Caitlyn Dunn completed her undergraduate studies in ancient history and then trained as a teacher. After several years of teaching in high schools and in the museum sector, Caitlyn is now a PhD candidate in the Department of History and Archaeology at Macquarie University. In her honours and masters theses, she investigated furnished burial rites in early medieval England and France and is now researching similar customs found in Croatia. Her PhD thesis is titled: Community Soul in Late Antique Dalmatia and Britannia: A Comparative Study of Furnished Mortuary Rites from 4th to 9th Centuries AD.
The Natural and the Supernatural in Book One of Paul the Deacon’s Historia Langobardorum and Their Impact upon Lombard Identity Formation
A/Prof Geoffrey D Dunn
University of Pretoria
In book one of his Historia Langobardorum, composed as his last work late in the eighth century, Paul the Deacon, a Benedictine monk then at Monte Cassino, explained the origins and migrations of the Lombards, whose history from the sixth to the eighth centuries he narrated, in terms of the impact of both the natural and supernatural worlds. Beginning by locating this text within the contemporary historiographical debate over ethnogenesis, which has impacted the way Paul’s purposes have been evaluated, this essay argues that Paul had a particular interest not simply in charting the origins and migrations of the Lombards in imitation of accounts of the origins of other barbarian peoples, but more specifically in seeing Lombard success in Italy as the product of the advantages they received from climatic influences in that place of origin. This contrasts with the comments of Walter Goffart and Christopher Heath who view the significance of the natural and supernatural worlds in Paul more narrowly and limitedly. For Paul, people were the product of their environment.
Geoffrey D. Dunn is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and an honorary research associate in the Department of Ancient and Modern Languages and Cultures, University of Pretoria. He has been editor of Journal of the Australian Early Medieval Association since 2010.
Continuity and disharmony: Nature and the supernatural in the reflection and practice of early medieval Western monasticism (6th-9th centuries)
Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milan
Browsing through the monastic sources of the early Middle Ages, one can observe that the natural and supernatural worlds were continuously communicating, almost to the point of overlapping into a single reality. Therefore, the educated elites of the time, largely made up of clerics, applied an essentially symbolic hermeneutic to natural phenomena, which aimed to search them for signs of a divine will or the presence of evil forces. The purpose of this paper is precisely to investigate the reflection – and practice – of Western monasticism in the early Middle Ages (6th-9th centuries) regarding the themes of nature and the supernatural.
Although it overwhelmed human powers, nature, as a product of the divine work, was not evil. However, original sin had compromised man’s relationship not only with God, but also with Creation. Monasticism set out to rebuild this relationship on a new basis: the monastery, with its vegetal spaces such as orchards and gardens, reflected the image of a reconstituted Eden, where nature was tamed for the benefit of man; and land reclamation and medicine, not surprisingly among the fundamental activities of monasteries, were not only tools for the fruitful administration of land resources (the former) or for healing the infirmities of the body (the latter), but responded to a broader anthropological and theological project – to restore harmony between creature, nature and Creator.
Enrico Frosio is a doctoral student at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan, with a thesis entitled “Medieval monasteries as a laboratory of innovation in the relationship between man and nature”. His research looks at monastic medicine and institutional implications of illness and the healing process, forms and dynamics of the transmission and circulation of medical knowledge in the medieval world, with particular reference to the side of medicine and cura corporis. He has participated in a number of international medieval conferences and he is also involved in the work for the UNESCO candidacy “Cluny and the network of Cluniac sites” as a collaborator for the site of San Salvatore delle Tezze in Capodiponte (BS).
Camels and landscapes in the iconography of Saint Menas through the ages: An extraordinary transect in an unpublished Balkan nineteenth-century icon
Miguel Gallés Magri
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Barcelona
The recent history of man, as a species, is a history of progressive distancing (in the sense of isolation) from nature. However, it has been in the last two centuries where the process has been most pronounced. It seems appropriate to propose a paper in which, based on the study of the evolution in the iconography of Saint Menas, throughout the entire process (6th to 19th centuries), we come to an interesting unpublished orthodox icon from 1849, in which its author carries out, probably without having never intended it, a very interesting transect of biological communities changing through altitude in a hypothetical Balkan countryside. And, what is more, such an achievement was made more than a hundred years before the proposals made by Professor Dr. Ramón Margalef at the University of Barcelona when founding ecology sciences. This is first-degree evidence of the observation ability to capture the fundamental biological structures and reproduce them synthetically with the greatest genuineness. That means a milestone in ‘Natural History’, with the added circumstance of pretending nothing more than inducing believers in the veneration of Saint Menas through an icon.
Being a senior researcher, Miguel’s first degree was in Biology (eventually, Marine Biology), and this was followed several years later by the Esade MBA (business). He has since dedicated himself to teaching and social affairs. After fifteen years of collecting post-Byzantine Orthodox icons Miguel is about to finish a PhD in Art History (orthodox icons).
Understanding the symptoms of spiritual illness: the role of terminology in the mentioning of women in the heretical reports of Lombardy, Languedoc, and the Rhineland (11th-12th centuries)
Trinity College Dublin
This paper analyses the role of terminology in the mentioning of women as symptoms of spiritual illness among the heretical reports of Lombardy, Languedoc, and the Rhineland during the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Unlike the thirteenth century where the number of heretical reports increased in size and diversity, this paper focuses on a period where the representation of dissidence was scarcer and relied on a multitude of smaller, sometimes nearly insignificant, accounts. It seeks to demonstrate how the presence of women could be used as an ideological tool to artificially exacerbate the importance of a group regarded as a spiritual infection and a threat to the Church. Moreover, the Church figures of the eleventh century gradually used the terminology of Saint Augustine to better understand the heretics they faced in their own era. As a result, it shall be necessary to analyse how the mentioning of women by certain figures Raoul Glaber could be inserted as part of the representation of heresy as a vast anti-Church. Women would thus be mentioned in the reports to emphasise the continuity of ancient groups described by Saint Augustine that supposedly propagated like an infection until they were confronted by the Church authorities in the High Medieval Period. This paper therefore considers to what extent their mentioning should always be inserted within the local narratives and tropes of heresy as these two themes evolved in parallel.
Robin Gatel is a final year PhD student in medieval history at Trinity College Dublin where he teaches French and History as a teaching assistant. His research primarily focuses on the evolution of the narrative of dissent during the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Through confronting different regional accounts, Robin is keen to demonstrate how the anti-heretical literature of the High Middle Ages can be used to approach a broad variety of topics such as the place of women, local socio-political structures, economics, politics and even warfare.
Unnatural Women and Natural Worlds in The Wife’s Lament and Canu Heledd
University of Melbourne
The Old English The Wife’s Lament and the early Welsh Canu Heledd bear clear similarities. Both poetic works are written from the perspective of a female speaker, marking them as unusual within their respective literary cultures. Both are poems of mourning, as the Wife laments the loss of a close male protector and her subsequent ostracism, while Heledd grieves the death of her family and destruction of her kingdom. Both works use dense nature imagery to evoke their sense of isolation and loss, and have accordingly been the source of varied scholarly interpretations.
In this paper, I suggest that the existence of these women speakers within natural spaces is related to their removal from traditionally female spaces. As the woman’s role within early medieval and martial societies was largely domestic and contained—as wives, mothers, and sisters—the speakers’ evacuation from their households creates a different type of bodily experience that is dispersed and fluid. They have thus become “unnatural” women due to their displacement within natural spaces, and I suggest that this disjunction is a key source of their distress. By reading both poems within one study, I aim to discuss how Othered womanhoods are cross-linguistically consistent, but also compare the expression of Anglo-Saxon and Welsh warfare and loss.
Adelaide completed her Master of Arts thesis at the University of Melbourne, and is the 2023 recipient of the Best Graduate Essay prize from the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship. Her research focuses on bodies, gender, and fantasy in medieval and medievalist literature.
Eleventh Century Climate Change in the Context of Eschatological Themes
Australian National University
Around 1030 Ademar de Chabannes wrote that there were “damaging droughts … and the Vienne River dried up for three days”. A few years later Rudolphus Glaber reported that “a famine began to ravage the whole earth, and death threatened almost the whole human race … rain fell continuously everywhere.” Each of these chroniclers believed these events presaged the corporeal return of Christ, and their writings emphasise these themes. By focusing on the millennial anxieties of the period, many historians have overlooked the importance of contemporary environmental conditions in their analyses of these chronicles.
Today we understand the tenth century as the beginning of a period of climatic warming that caused an amplification of weather extremes. By taking an environmental perspective, this paper seeks to shed light on the chroniclers’ millennial concerns, bringing the scientific evidence into focus. My analysis will explore the palaeo-climatological evidence and the topography to show that the chroniclers lived in a world that met the prophesied conditions for the return of Christ. This research will contribute to a deeper understanding of these chroniclers and their writings.
Help, Healing and Protection in a Tenth-Century Collection of Miracle Stories
Dr Yanko Hristov
South-West University “Neofit Rilski”, Bulgaria
There are no serious doubts that cult of Saint George was one of the most popular saint cults in the Orthodox world during the Middle Ages. Already in the early medieval era, a considerable group of various texts glorifying the saint George already exist. Nowadays not all of these texts are within the scope of profound scholarly interest. Such a statement can be easily applied to a voluminous early 10th-century collection of miracle stories titled A Tale of the Iron Cross (also known as The Tale of the Monk Christodoulos). Lots of the records in the mentioned hagiographical work, still stay outside of the main research activities. Despite this, taking into consideration its accounts, one can say without hesitation that the 10th-century collection of miracle stories in question is a primarily source of key importance when it comes to the medical knowledge, healing practices, skills, habits and principles of social behaviour in Early Medieval South-eastern Europe.
Yanko Hristov currently holds the positions of Chief Assistant Professor in the History of Medieval Bulgaria as well as Deputy Associate Professor in Medieval History and the History of Byzantium at South-West University “Neofit Rilski”, Blagoevgrad (Bulgaria). He is a foreign member of the Medieval Association of the Midwest (USA) and a member of the Balkan Association of History and Philosophy of Medicine. His recent research activity is focused on Byzantine law and jurisprudence, while research interests include Byzantine and Old Bulgarian hagiography, slavery, captivity, prisoners of war and human trafficking in Southeastern Europe in the Middle Ages.
Time, tense and aspect in Old English
Hon. A/Prof Rosemary Huisman
University of Sydney
The linguist M.A.K. Halliday described most languages as having two models of time, both (in McTaggart’s terms) a B-series and an A-series, though different languages give greater emphasis to one or the other. The B-series is associated more with meanings of duration, the A-series more with meanings of sequence. In its morphology, Old (and Modern) English has two tenses, present and past. Literacy, as we understand it, came to English speakers with the Latin of Roman Christianity. Latin verbs realize linear meanings of primary and secondary tense in their conjugations; written English, translating Latin, can realize Latin-like temporal meanings with auxiliary verbs. It is feasible that the development of English to a complementary modelling of time, both the B-series and, for English, the increasingly dominant linear A-series, is associated with the cultural transition from orality to literacy.
Rosemary Huisman is Honorary Associate Professor in English at The University of Sydney. Her publications include Narrative Worlds and the Texture of Time, A Social-Semiotic Perspective (2023), The Written Poem, Semiotic Conventions from Old to Modern English (1998, 2000), six chapters in Narrative and Media (2005) and numerous articles on literary and legal language. She is also a published poet (her doctoral work was on Old English poetry).
Reading the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in Lockdown: Reflections from the Sydney Old English Reading Group
Dr Diana Jefferies
University of Western Sydney
The Sydney Old English Reading Group has been meeting fortnightly basis since 2006. Normally meeting face-to-face, the Covid-19 pandemic forced the group to quickly pivot online using Zoom. This presented new opportunities as former members located overseas or new members located in other states could join the group. The group consists of all ranges of expertise in Old English and is skillfully guided by Alex Jones (ex Department of English, USyd). When the pandemic began, we were reading the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as a glossed text from the Parker MS to 977 CE and the Laud MS from 979 to 1154 CE as edited and glossed by Alex Jones in 2019.
The Anglo- Saxon Chronicle was begun in the reign of King Alfred (871 to 899) and provides a history of the Anglo- Saxons from 496 CE to the Norman Conquest. Although a continuation from Peterborough takes the history to 1154 CE. Often the Chronicle surprised us with its choice of emphasis, such as which battles were considered worthy of a long and detailed inclusion and which ones were only given a scant mention. It was also interesting to read how the Chronicle described events that seemed very contemporary to the readers such as natural disasters, major weather events and infectious disease.
This paper will discuss how the Chronicle is a surprising document that on one hand can seem very modern but, on the hand, disrupts and confronts the way we see the history of the period. All in all, reading the Chronicle as a group meant that we could penetrate the difficulties of language and enjoy a very delightful escape into another place and time during a crisis.
Dr Diana Jefferies is a senior lecturer in the School of Nursing and Midwifery at the University of Western Sydney. She is a registered nurse with twenty-five years’ clinical experience, with an academic background in the humanities. Her research program has two focuses: first to explore the historical and literary representations of mental illness to investigate the cultural background of stigma; and second to identify the place of the humanities in healthcare education.
Depictions of young girls in the art of the late Byzantine period in the Balkan peninsula (1204-1453)
Democritus University of Thrace (Komotini)
One of the most important ways for Orthodox Christians to leave their mark on time is to create their portraits in the churches. In the context of this brief announcement, we will be concerned with the portraits of women and young girls in the churches and portable images of Greece, Cyprus, North Macedonia and Bulgaria in a period of constant wars between the Byzantines, Latins, Bulgarians, Serbs, Albanians and Ottoman Turks (1204-1571). Therefore, the study and grouping of the portraits will follow the state administration of the area in which they were made, because the politics of each medieval power differed in terms of dealing with the citizens with varying effects in all its aspects of life, and therefore also in art. In the analysis of the female depictions, we will focus on the historical data, the place of the portraits and their exact dating. We are also concerned with the holy figure next to which is depicted the portrait of the female donor, her its overall appearance, namely the costume, the jewellery, distinctions, attitude, the dedicatory inscription that accompanies her (if saved) and language. Naturally, we will seek the relationship and the roles of each young girl with the depicted persons and the way in which they are displayed because female presences cannot be researched isolated from the other donors.
Katerina completed both her undergraduate and postgraduate studies in Byzantine Archeology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. Since 2019 she has been a doctoral candidate in the Department of History and Ethnology at the Democritus University of Thrace (Komotini), and is due to submit in September 2023. Katerina has written Greek articles and has participated in Greek and international scientific meetings, conferences and workshops. She also recently posted on the Oxford blog. Her research interests include studies of late Byzantine and early Post-Byzantine art, donors portraits and inscriptions, female studies and gender studies.
In Patria Perstabant: Post-Roman Britain at War in De Excidio Britanniae
The barbarians push us to the sea, the sea pushes us to the barbarians. Such is the cry of the desperate British in their unanswered appeal to the Roman general Aëtius. Caught between these two alien extremes is the physical landscape of the island of Britain. Written more than a century after Rome’s withdrawal from Britain, De Excidio Britanniae illustrates the early medieval writer Gildas’s cultural unease with Rome’s imperial failure, reflected in the decaying urban landscape and useless military fortifications scattered across Britain. This paper looks at the ways in which Gildas manipulates perceptions of Roman construction and the natural landscape of Britain. As a postcolonial writer, Gildas is fundamentally concerned with Rome’s troubled legacy in sixth-century Britain, reflected in De Excidio as the physical changes made to the British landscape across four centuries of occupation, all of which prove as useless to defend the British as the Romans themselves. Despite this failure, Gildas argues that the British are able to survive because of the British landscape’s harsh terrain, which succeeds in protecting them when Roman terraforming fails.
Katrina Knight is a 7th-year PhD candidate in the Department of History at Emory University in Atlanta, GA, USA. Holding masters degrees in classics, archaeology, and history, her research focuses on ethnicity, identity, and cultural development in the Roman provinces and early medieval successor states. Her current project is her doctoral dissertation, Becoming UnRoman: Romans and Romanness in Late Antique and Early Medieval Britain and Italy.
Between the Natural and the Unnatural: the Personification in the Scene of the Baptism of Christ in the Holy Trinity Chapel of Lublin, Poland
Dr Aleksandra Krauze-Kołodziej
John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, Poland
The aim of the presentation is to describe, analyze and interpret the personification present in the scene of Christ’s Baptism in the Holy Trinity Chapel in Lublin, Poland. The Chapel, built in the second half of the 14th century, is one of the most valuable monuments of medieval art of both the East and the West in Poland and in Europe. The perfect combination of Gothic architecture with the Byzantine-Ruthenian polychrome in the interior makes it a unique example on an international scale.
Although the building dates from the medieval period, its iconography refers to well-known iconographic motifs of the ancient and early medieval periods transforming them in a very interesting and innovative way. The presentation will focus on the personification of the river Jordan (?) represented in the scene of the Baptism of Christ, one of the wall-paintings decorating the interior of the Chapel. The author will analyze the scene in the context of ancient and early medieval written sources and iconographic representations, especially its ancient and early medieval models (personifications of rivers and seas) and early Christian and medieval scenes presenting various forms of this motif. Basing on this analysis, the author will present the interpretation of the scene and its possible significance in the context of the whole polychrome complex of the interior of the Chapel.
Aleksandra Krauze-Kołodziej works as an Assistant Professor at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, in Poland. She completed her PhD in the field of Art History. She also finished Italian Philology (MA), Classical Philology (BA) and Byzantine Studies (Postgraduate Studies). Her main research interests are: comparative iconography between ancient and early Christian and early medieval times, together with Byzantine and Latin tradition in medieval art. Her publications are available at her university profile and her academia profile.
Dragon Slaying in the Old Norse-Icelandic Fáfnismál and its Indo-European Parallels
University of Wales
Dragons feature prominently in the mythological tradition of the Germanic peoples. “As rare as they are dire”, the dragon is a key feature of the mythologies of the various Indo-European peoples. In this paper, I aim to examine a specific instance of the dragon-slaying myth: Sigurðr Fáfnisbani’s killing of the dragon Fáfnir in the Eddic lay Fáfnismál. I aim to read Sigurðr’s heroic activity in the context of the Indo-European dragon slayer myth. I intend to examine the semantics of the Old Norse word ormr (“worm”/ “dragon”) and its Indo-European etymology. Drawing upon the work of Calvert Watkins in his seminal monograph How to Kill a Dragon: Aspects of Indo-European Poetics, I intend to examine the Norse dragon-slaying episode of the Norse tradition in relation to the Avestan myth of Thraētaona’s killing of the serpent Aži Dahāka. I aim, moreover, to read the saga of the dragon slayers in the broader context of the Indo-European cosmic battle between chaos and order. In this regard, my paper will give further insight into the close relation between the dragon-slaying event and cosmic order in Indo-European myth.
Samuel has recently completed an MPhil in Medieval Latin at the University of Sydney, and is about to commence an MA in Ancient Greek with the University of Wales. His research interests include Classics, Germanic Philology, Indo-Iranian Philology, and Indo-European Linguistics.
Out of the Blue: Revaluating the nature of the Irish Sea on coastal margins from a maritime pilgrimage perspective in the early medieval period
University of the Highlands and Islands
The sea during the Age of Saints in the medieval period, was a physical natural periphery and perceived as a Christian spiritual margin of dark foreboding synonymous with destruction and chaos despite acting as a conduit for merchants, travellers, missionaries, and pilgrims alike. Traversing the sea required engagement and understanding of the natural world; affirmed belief, accentuated religious ritual, facilitated social, cultural, and commercial contact by acting as a natural conduit linking disparate communities and stimulated ecclesiastical and secular infrastructure.
Using a case study area of Galloway within the Irish Sea Zone, an historical-archaeology multi-disciplinary approach, has been devised. The research combines experiential study and phenomenological ‘marinimity’ to delineate natural seascape characteristics and sea to land perspectives. Amalgamated with research of placenames, written sources, cartography, and material remains these seascape elements provide a fresh perspective to traditional terrestrial based pilgrimage discussions.
This paper revisualizes the environment of the sea from the sea giving insight into a maritime pilgrim’s experience. Theorizing on how the sea influenced the land and terrestrial pilgrimage routes respectively. Furthermore, the multidisciplinary methodology provides the detail for the narrative that the case study area contained a natural spiritual maritime highway where secular and religious sites are purposefully sited within coastal margins of encounter due to natural sea characteristics.
Joanne is a final year PhD student from the Orkney Archaeological Institute through the University of the Highlands and Islands in Scotland, UK. Her research focus is the early medieval period and maritime pilgrimage and she has given papers on placenames and methodological research techniques as well as having a background in industry and business and heritage projects. Joanne currently teaches on the undergraduate and postgraduate Historical Archaeology and Early Medieval Archaeology modules at the Orkney Archaeological Insitute, UHI.
A Landscape Semantic Investigation of Old Irish Mag ‘Plain’ and Muir ‘Sea’
University of the Highlands and Islands
The mythological equation of the landscape features mag ‘plain’ and muir ‘sea’ in the Old Irish saga Immram Brain (‘The Voyage of Bran’) often puzzles modern readers. While the two landscape features are formally equated in the text, they are not used by the same characters. What is seen and used as muir by human beings, fulfils the function of mag for supernatural beings. Landscape semantics enables an understanding of the cognitive linguistic concepts represented by these terms and thus provides a new perspective on this merging of seemingly contradictory landscapes. It provides insight into how these landscape features were conceptualized in early medieval Ireland. Mag and muir have a large degree of semantic overlap and thus represent almost identical concepts. They are parallel landscape features in two ways: (1) they are parallel to one another in the mythological equation of muir being used by humans and mag being used by supernatural beings, and (2) they are parallel semantic concepts that are only distinguished by their physical realization of liquid water in contrast with solid land. This semantic parallelism likely provided the foundation for the mythological equation.
Rebecca Madlener is a first year PhD student in Celtic Studies at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig / the University of the Highlands and Islands. Her main research interests are historical semantics and landscape semantics. Her PhD project investigates the semantics of modern Scottish Gaelic terms for landscape features and their diachronic development from Old Irish up to the present day.
The Byzantine legal reaction to the “Plague of Justinian”: social resilience to divine chastisement
Asst. Prof David Magalhães
University of Coimbra, Portugal
Although the scale of its severity is a contentious matter, no one disputes the considerable impact of the so-called “Plague of Justinian”, a pandemic of bubonic plague that affected the Byzantine Empire and other areas.
This paper aims to examine the Byzantine legal reaction to the plague, putted forward through several legislative interventions enacted by Christian Emperor Justinian I. In comparison to modern patterns, especially the measures applied during the Covid-19 pandemic, they were rather modest. Even so, they can help to shed some light on how the outbreak of the plague was explained in Constantinople and the way the political power dealt with it.
First, it can be pointed out that the plague was taken as proof of the impact of the supernatural on the natural world. In fact, it was seen as a God’s chastisement to human sins that should lead sinners to redemption. Novel 122 (23 March 544) refers to a “chastisement brought by the Lord’s clemency”, on account of which people should have had become better. The Emperor notes that, on the contrary, trade professionals, craftsmen, farm workers and seamen had become avaricious, demanding wages and prices two or three times higher than customary. This is a clear reference to the plague and its mortality, from which the survivors were taking advantage to increase their income due to the workforce decline. The second point is that, nevertheless, the constitutiones principum (imperial legal acts) promulgated to deal with such a serious “chastisement” (which represented an omnipresent risk of death, as described in edictum 7, from 1 March 542) were remarkably parsimonious. They amounted to a few measures to protect bankers (edictum 7), the imposition of prices and wages according to what was the practice before the pandemic (Novel 122) and possibly, for tax purposes after the plague had reduced the collection of public revenue, some changes to the rules concerning the emphyteusis of ecclesiastical property (Novel 120, from 9 May 544) and those about adiectio sterilium/epibole (Novel 128, promulgated on 24 June 545). In my opinion, the reform of intestate succession law brought by Novel 118 (16 July 543) was not related to the plague.
A conclusion can be drawn. The plague was regarded by the Byzantine imperial chancellery as a divine chastisement, but a benevolent one that intended to remind men of their sins and to make them better persons through redemption. This being so, the Justinianic legislator didn’t panic. It restrained itself to deal with some economic consequences of the plague. No wide range social measures were undertaken, only a few seeking the solvency of banks, the stability of prices and to counter the depletion of the public treasury. God had sent the chastisement with paternal love to redeem sinners; these were the ones who should take the lesson, while the Empire carried on resiliently, without social convulsions and even expanding itself to the italic territories, Persia and the Iberian Peninsula. In a nutshell, social resilience to divine chastisement.
David Magalhães is a tenured Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Coimbra, Portugal. In 2023, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society (London, United Kingdom), and he is also a member of a number of other international historical associations and law societies.
The Dyce inscription and the morphosyntax of Pictish
Dr Bernard Mees
From the sixth to the tenth centuries, tombstones featuring inscriptions and a range of characteristic symbols were raised in northern Scotland by the Picts. The language recorded in the inscriptions has long been considered inscrutable, but a fully preserved tombstone text discovered in 1997 at Dyce in Aberdeenshire records a name Rogoddadd that appears most obviously understood as a reflex of the Latin saint’s name Rogatus. The syntax of the inscription points to Rogoddadd being the patronymic of the commissioner of the Dyce memorial, a class-II Pictish symbol stone, in a text expressed in a similar manner to those recorded on other Pictish funerary memorials. The Dyce inscription preserves clear evidence not just for a patronymic, however, but also for Pictish morphosyntactic behaviour that is typically Indo-European, but not Insular Celtic.
Dr Bernard Mees taught history, linguistics and business at the University of Melbourne, RMIT and the University of Tasmania, and this year he has been a guest researcher at Uppsala University. His most recent book is The English Language Before England (Routledge 2023) and he is currently working on a linguistic study of the historicity of Arthur (due to be published by Bloomsbury next year) and a new edition and grammar of the older runic inscriptions.
The Natural and Unseen Woruldgerihta in IV Edgar
IV Edgar, a set of law codes issued at Wihtbortseen to the plague of c. 962, grants woruldgerihta mid Denum (worldly rights among the Danes). This term has previously been translated as ‘secular rights’ and no extensive scholarship has considered this clause’s broader implications in an Anglo-Scandinavian context. I draw upon the work of scholars in the field of Scandinavian pre-Christian studies, who suggest that the natural and spiritual worlds were inextricably linked during the early medieval period, to argue that we may impart Old Norse religious and cultural meanings onto woruldgerihta, akin to ‘worldly rights’. With this framework in mind, I then turn to hæðen prohibitions in V Æthelred and II Cnut to suggest these laws were reactionary to prevalent popular customs and religious practices bolstered by Anglo-Scandinavians living to their own woruldgerihta in a time of plague, and new arrivals of Viking Danes in the late tenth century. In doing so, I shed light on the complex nature of religious change from the Norse religions to Christianity, and how the entangled Anglo-Scandinavian understanding of the natural and unseen world may be read into Anglo-Saxon law.
Morgan Mumford is a recent MRes graduate from the Department of History and Archaeology at Macquarie University. His thesis was titled ‘From Valhalla to Heaven: Norse Pagan Contact with Christianity in Anglo-Scandinavian England’. He is interested in hybridisation between communities in the early medieval world, particularly within Scandinavia and the British Isles. Morgan spends a lot of his time in the ocean, either swimming, diving, or surfing, and ponders over the role the ocean plays in epistemologies of the medieval world.
Nature as fertile void: how desert women fill the emptiness
University of Sydney
Nature in hagiographic literature is anything but a haven. The reason for going into the wilderness is to endure hardships rather than to enjoy some bucolic locus amoenus: ascetic practice is close to penance, where the rigours of solitary life encourage introspection, and where the hermit actively cultivates compunction to reach God. This paper introduces another element in the ascetic austerity of voluntary exile in nature by concentrating on women who literally exposed themselves to the desert. In the life of Mary of Egypt, the saint has lost all her clothes by the time Zosimas meets her. Yet women in the Middle Ages were expected to be fertile and it was a source of shame to be barren; and so the choice to withdraw from a productive birth-giving role to arrive at isolation in a barren place proposes double transgressions of feminine stereotypes, where nature, as harsh as it is, provides a hallowed sequestration that trumps conventional gender roles. The paper examines both hagiographical texts and visual art depicting Mary of Egypt, alongside Theoktiste of Lesbos. It suggests that while women’s rapport with the infertile places is highly redemptive, salvation is paradoxically achieved by denial and embracing the abject – incurring degradation and ugliness – that is somewhat modelled around the paradigm of martyrdom.
Olympia Nelson is a PhD candidate in the Department of Modern Greek & Byzantine Studies at the University of Sydney. She graduated from the University of Melbourne with first class Honours, majoring in Art History, English and Theatre Studies. Her thesis examined the representation of curtains in Renaissance art and their metaphorical symbolism. Following her studies, she gained experience as a research assistant at Hong Kong Baptist University with Dr Angelo Lo Conte. Her current research focuses on the history, management and performativity of emotion in Byzantine art and literature.
The church in ferment: medieval intuitions of microbiology
A/Prof Robert Nelson
University of Melbourne
A theological brawl erupted in the eleventh century over the proper bread for holy communion: the Latin church had opted for a wafer or unleavened bread (azyme, ἄζυμον) but the Orthodox Byzantine church insisted that the bread of holy communion must be fermented sourdough made with leaven (ζύμη or προζύμη). This angry dispute, known as the azyme controversy, offers priceless insights into how the medieval mind understood fermentation. This paper argues that while the significance of leaven is symbolic in religious terms, the two sides of the debate foreshadow developments in science from the nineteenth century, when Louis Pasteur came to the conclusion that yeasts do not act corrosively on the substance that nourishes them but rather they represent an additive process or form of growth. In the azyme controversy, Cardinal Humbert on the Latin side identified leaven with rot or scum or the spoiling (vitiatio) of an otherwise pure substance, while the Greek side identified leaven with flourishing and the self-propagating fertility of heavenly grace.
The paper concludes by proposing a paradox: although in many ways our positive understanding of yeast valorizes the Greek enthusiasm for fermentation, the negative Latin view nevertheless appeals to empirical evidence through observation, and better correlates with the systematic experimental genius of subsequent science.
A/Prof Robert Nelson is a Principal Honorary Fellow at Melbourne University. He trained in art history at La Trobe University with an MA in baroque art and PhD in Hellenistic art. Robert taught in Art & Design at Monash University where he became Associate Dean Research & Graduate Studies. His most recent books are A history of inspiration (Routledge 2022), and A visceral history of bread: from First-Nations Australia to Byzantium (museum of innocence, Mildura 2023). Robert was also art critic for The Age for 26 years and the scene painter for Polixeni Papapetrou.
Flora and Fauna in the Early Medieval Hagiography of Samson of Dol
Dr Lynette Olson
University of Sydney
This paper examines the evidence of three texts from early medieval Brittany: the First Life of Samson for which a date of the late seventh century to ca 700 is now heavily favoured, the mid-ninth-century Second Life of Samson, and the Metrical Addition to the Second Life, composed in the early tenth century, perhaps what survives of a full Metrical Life of Samson. There are plenty of references to animals, especially serpents both real and unreal (to us), and a few to plants, all of which will be considered to reveal knowledge about, use of and attitudes to the natural and unnatural.
Lynette Olson is an Honorary Associate in History at the University of Sydney, currently working on three projects: making an annotated translation of the early hagiography of St Samson of Dol (with Thomas Charles-Edwards and Caroline Brett) for publication in the series Translated Texts for Historians; participating (with Jonathan Wooding and Penny Nash) in the Melocco Project about Celtic-inspired decoration of a number of Australian buildings that will result in an e-book and limited print version in the Sydney Series in Celtic Studies and, it is hoped, a television program; as well as attempting to read more of the names on the tenth-century List of Cornish Saints through image enhancement of MS Vat. Reg. Lat. 191.
What happened to early medieval Irish manuscripts: a research question
Dr Pamela O’Neill
University of Sydney
With a few notable exceptions, we have no manuscripts written in Old Irish in the period in which that language was in active use. What we do have is both manuscripts in Latin (such as the deluxe gospel manuscripts) of that early period, and later manuscripts preserving language which we believe to have been first committed to writing as early as the seventh and eighth centuries. This paper begins by reviewing the existing evidence, both textual and material, for manuscripts in Old Irish of various ages. It goes on to detail a research question, namely is there any way to retrieve information about what happened to the hypothesised manuscripts written in Old Irish. It then makes some preliminary observations about potential lines of enquiry into this unnatural absence.
Pamela O’Neill was the founding president and journal editor of AEMA and is now an honorary life member. She is an honorary research associate in the Medieval and Early Modern Centre and coordinator of the Celtic language units of study at the University of Sydney. She runs the Australian School of Celtic Learning and The Croft Celtic Cultural Centre and Cafe eight hours north of Sydney in Glen Innes.
Between Nature and Miracle: The Moon in Merovingian Hagiographic Sources (7th-8th centuries)
A/Prof Emanuele Piazza
Università degli Studi di Catania
The aim of this paper is to focus on how references to the moon and lunar symbolism in hagiographic works of the late Merovingian period can be effectively analysed in order to assess the traces of pagan superstition in Gallic society in the VII-VIII centuries. Specific passages will be examined to understand to what extent the persistence of idolatrous cults linked to the moon in this period can be interpreted as a sign of the resistance of paganism, especially in the countryside, and how references to this celestial body represent a powerful literary tool, almost a kind of topos, used in hagiographic sources to signal certain important and critical events, including in the political sphere. Events which are also characterised by the manifestation of marvellous signa related to the moon, powerful signals of the divine will that determined the course of human affairs. The symbolic value attributed to the moon in the early Middle Ages will be pointed out in the main sources in the light of the most recent historiographical interpretations.
Emanuele Piazza is Associate Professor in Medieval History at the Department of Educational Sciences, University of Catania. His research activities investigate the sources of the Romano-barbarian kingdoms, the history of mentality in the Early Middle Ages and the political and religious history of Sicily between the fifth and ninth centuries. He is member of the Grupo de Investigación y Estudios Medievales (GIEM) del Centro de Estudios Históricos (CEHis) de la Facultad de Humanidades de la Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata (Argentina); of the Scientific Board of the Centro studi Longobardi; of Episcopus: Society for the Study of Bishops and the Secular Clergy in the Middle Ages; of the Association Internationale d’Études Patristiques/International Association of Patristic Studies; of the Associazione italiana per lo studio della santità, dei culti e dell’agiografia”; of the PSALM-Network (Politics, Society and Liturgy in the Middle Ages).
‘Offspring of unclean spirits, dwellers of swamps, scarcely human’: Formulaic descriptions of the nomadic steppe peoples in Late Antique and Medieval Texts
Dr Stephen Pow
University of Calgary
While not quite portrayed as the monsters of later bestiaries and mappae mundi, the Huns of the Pontic Steppe received extremely unsympathetic characterizations from Latin authors of Late Antiquity such as the fourth-century soldier, Ammianus Marcellinus, and sixth-century administrator, Jordanes. There are striking patterns in such descriptions; while human, the Huns are “scarcely human” and their language has “a slight resemblance to human speech.” Their origins are imputed to witches and unclean spirits who unfortunately met in the Maeotic swamp. While familiarity with steppe peoples increases with intensified interactions through the Early and High Middle Ages, many of the tropes persist in the literature. Indeed, later authors even occasionally borrow polished texts from earlier authors to apply to nomadic neighbours in their own time. This paper analyzes and interprets some of the most persistent patterns in such descriptions of the nomads as peoples on the fringes of the natural and human. But it also looks at types of evolution and deviation in the characterizations over a period of centuries, and what the significance might be for that phenomenon.
Cosmology, borders and universal dimensions in Dante’s Divine Comedy
National and Kapodistrian University of Athens
It is a fact that one of the best known and most important literary texts of the Middle Ages is the Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri. In his work, he largely describes the environment and the thin borders that separate Heaven from Hell, even giving physical elements that are also found in reality. He imagines the material universe following the model of Aristotle, with nine spheres. The Earth is central, surrounded by spheres for the Moon, Sun, planets and fixed stars. The spheres rotate about the Earth at different rates. Outside this universe there is a model of the spiritual universe, with nine choirs of angels in spheres surrounding God. These two worlds, then, are connected and constitute one with clear borders, as described by Beatrice in canto 28 of Paradiso, when she guides Dante from Purgatory into Paradise. Dante showed his extraordinary genius in imagining this merging of two spheres into a 3-sphere by considering two solid globes and identifying corresponding points on the surface of each. In 1917 Albert Einstein supported that the 3-sphere formed the basis of a cosmological model which was finite but unbounded. Traveling without changing direction, we ultimately arrive back at our starting point. Therefore, although opinions on the nature and topology of the universe still differ, it is clear that Dante offered science and humanity a first scientific explanation of the individual dimensions of the universe and the role of boundaries between them.
Andreas Prasinos is a classical philologist, a graduate of the Philology department of the Greek Academy of Sciences. His specialization concerns the classical world and, specifically, ancient Greek and Roman literature. He has taken part in several scientific conferences in Universities and research organizations in Greece and abroad and has published a number of scientific articles, as well as scientific books. His research interests concern the works of ancient Greek and Roman writers of the Classical and post-classical periods, as well as the works of medieval studies and especially Dante Alighieri. He works as a professor in educational organizations and as a scientific researcher at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens.
Golden Palm Trees and Devilish Dross: Metallurgy and Supernatural Textuality in Solomon and Saturn I
University of Sydney
The poetic wisdom dialogue Solomon and Saturn I is among the most intriguing yet critically neglected texts in Old English. Much of its latter half consists of a remarkable speech in which Solomon describes the letters of the Pater Noster as anthropomorphised warriors who emerge from a person’s mouth to violently rout the devil. This passage foregrounds the poem’s concern with the physical dimensions of language, and has therefore formed a mainstay of recent critical commentary. I argue that this concern also undergirds a number of cryptic passages which have received far less attention, in which an idiosyncratic motif of precious metals and metallurgy predominates. Here, the Pater Noster seems to be a golden, gem-studded, silver-leafed palm tree, and the devil a mass of molten ore that is heated by the prayer’s refining flame. Examined in light of recent work on the poem’s relationship to a peculiarly insular tradition of ‘Incarnational poetics’, these unusual images may be seen to represent licit and illicit kinds of textual variation and transmission. Ultimately, they reveal a conception of scribal and authorial labour as entangled with supernatural phenomena that could be made visible, per speculum in aenigmate, in the act of writing itself.
Stuart Rich is an Honours student in English at the University of Sydney, with a thesis focusing on conceptions of speech, silence, and textuality in the Old English poem Solomon and Saturn I. His interests include the literary and cultural contexts of Old English enigmatic poetry, as well as early medieval theories of language and the history of Old English studies.
Vital Spaces: Ornamental Ecospheres in Medieval Scandinavian Adornments
Dr Andrea Snow
Metal objects from pre-Christian Scandinavia are saturated with life: reticulating beasts and meta-animals, boundless rows of beading and pelleting, and raised channels of silver and gold visually stimulating surfaces that called for a continuous and absorbed engagement from the beholder. Throughout the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, such objects were scrutinized by art historians and archaeologists alike, with great efforts committed to typologizing such imagery based on its stylistic features. Aiming to enhance our comprehension of Viking-Age communities beyond questions of provenance, more recent scholarship has concentrated on the cultural substance underlying figural motifs to debate for and against their capacity to serve as inter-textual communication tools. Ever-fixated on the figure, these conversations have been fruitful for categorizing and bringing dimensionality to the art of Scandinavia’s medieval past; however, the ornamental arenas that these motifs occupy, rich in visual detail (and therefore visual information), have been dismally neglected. These busy “between spaces” – liminal hollows and transitional planes through which gripping beasts and metamorphic humans process – are too intricate, too intentionally formed to be devoid of substance. What ontological textures might be concealed within them? This paper applies an eco-conscious lens to the environments of medieval Scandinavian metalwork to connect such ornamented spaces with pre-Christian ontological approaches to the (super)natural world.
Dr. Andrea C. Snow is an art historian who specializes in the material and visual cultures of medieval Scandinavia and German-speaking lands. Her research is especially concerned with objects that represent, refer to, or signal the presences of the supernatural and transhuman bodies that populated the mental, visual, and ecological landscapes of the period.
Crossing our ‘T’s and dotting our ‘I’s: Tattooing within – and the impact of mistranslation upon – Early Medieval Insular sources
University of Sydney
In the ancient and medieval sources, typical epithets and descriptions of the Britons, Picts and Scots, frequently described them as being marked in some way, bearing designs, or being blue-coloured. Previous generations of scholars – when they have even addressed this material – have tended to interpret these literary sources as evidence that temporary body-painting was the practice behind these designs. The primary culprit behind this notion is the fact that a significant portion, if not the majority, of the textual primary sources which contain evidence of tattooing were last translated at a time when tattooing within European antiquity was not well-understood and tattooing within the then contemporary world was associated with primitivism, criminality, or both. Once the foundation of this problem has been acknowledged and corrected through the modernisation of these translations, a thorough re-assessment of the written material alongside the few surviving physical sources, leads to the conclusion that the practice was in fact permanent tattooing.
Erica is currently a MPhil candidate in Celtic Studies at the University of Sydney and her research explores the history and historiography of ancient and medieval Insular tattooing. Her previous degrees include a BA (Hons) in Medieval Studies and a BSc in Marine Geophysics. Her other research interests broadly incorporate the early medieval history of northern and central Europe, the emerging field of geomythology, intersections between the sciences and the humanities, and medievalism more broadly.
Sermons on the Apocalypse: Preaching During the Crises of the Seventh Century
Dr Ryan W. Strickler
University of Newcastle
The seventh century was a period of crisis for the Byzantine Empire. The initial decades saw disastrous losses at the hands of the Persians, while the latter half witnessed the rise of Islam, and the progressive encroachment of early Muslim-led forces into Byzantine territory, including Jerusalem.
Many Byzantines interpreted these crises through the lens of apocalyptic discourse, considering enemy success to be divine chastisement for sin and seeing themselves as part of a providential narrative laid out in the Old Testament. Homilies were well suited to this discourse. In times of victory, as in the successful defence of Constantinople from the Avar and Persian siege of 626, authors such as Theodore Syncellus preached that the city and the empire had been delivered by the supplications of the Mother of God from the army of Gog mentioned in Ezekiel. For Sophronius of Jerusalem, who witnessed the progressive advance of Arab forces into his ecclesiastical territory, the Muslim Arabs were the “abomination of desolation” predicted by Daniel.
This paper examines the use of apocalyptic discourse in seventh-century homilies, in particular homilies depicted in saints’ lives, the homily of Theodore Syncellus on the siege of Jerusalem, and the homilies of Sophronius of Jerusalem. Close attention will be paid to the exegesis of Old Testament passages, dehumanisation of adversaries, and the importance of the homiletic genre in understanding the role of homilies in making the crises of the seventh century comprehensible to a popular audience.
Dr. Ryan Strickler is Lecturer in Ancient History at the University of Newcastle. His research considers authority, legitimacy and identity formation in periods of crisis in the later Roman Empire. He has published on Byzantine Apocalypticism, crisis management and dissent.
What’s (not) a Leechbook?
University of Auckland
A leech book is not a book of leeches. And a remedy book is more than just a book of remedies. So when is a remedy book not a Leechbook? And what makes them so remarkable? This paper investigates the wisdom of medieval medical literature in the early Middle Ages through the lens of two key sub-types of the genre. It addresses the ways nature is harnessed and revered in medical remedies and how leechbooks and remedy books present the power of herbs to tame the malignant forces of illness. Often the terms remedy book and leechbook are used interchangeably but this approach fails to appreciate the unique value of each text-type within the oeuvre of medical literature. This paper highlights how the varying types of recipe collections offer fascinating insights into the art of medical writing and remedy collection in the Middle Ages and the intricacies of their authorship and employment.
Jessica Thomas is in the second year of her PhD at the University of Auckland. She completed her Masters degree with First Class Honours and received a Doctoral Scholarship to pursue research in the history of medicine, art, and alchemy in late medieval England. Her thesis aims to transform historical understandings of the materials and methods of alchemical, medicinal, and artistic practice by analysing the philosophical and physical connections between these three fields. Her research of herbariums and women’s medicine of early medieval England has been published in the journal of the International Society of the History of Medicine, and her research into late medieval medical manuscripts is set to be published with the University of Cambridge later this year.
“Churches defiled, our Faith broken”: the ‘pagan reaction’ of the 1030s in the Piast monarchy
A/Prof Darius von Güttner-Sporzyński
Australian Catholic University, Canberra
The introduction of Christianity in 966 brought the realm of the Piasts into the orbit of Latin Christendom. The early Polish chronicles report on the ‘pagan reaction’ that shook the monarchy in the 1030s. This paper will examine the causes and impact of the violent upheaval that threaten the Church in Poland in the eleventh century.
The Returning Dead: Vengeance and Violence in Medieval Ghost Stories
University of Queensland
For medieval writers, the “supernatural” provided a lens through which they could discuss complex themes, as well as providing compelling narratives for their intended audiences, to better convey didactic messages to those audiences. I would like to propose a paper entitled “The Returning Dead: Vengeance and Violence in Medieval Ghost Stories”, in which I will discuss a ghost narrative from Thietmar of Merseburg’s Chronicon Thietmari (written c. 1012-1018), where a priest encounters the returning dead in his churchyard. Thietmar uses this narrative to discuss themes such as the paganism of both his congregation’s ancestors and their Slavic neighbours, and touches upon concepts such as colonialism and violence, destruction, and warfare. This paper will also discuss notions of contested spaces in this context, not only through the Chronicon Thietmari, but also using other narratives from German authors of a roughly contemporary time period, such as Burchard of Worms (c. 950-1025).
Chris White is a PhD candidate from the University of Queensland. His thesis focuses on messages of didactic normativity in what are known as “wonder tales”, primarily those from the medieval Latin West. These wonder tales are stories of ghosts, werewolves, and other fantastical creatures. His thesis also deals with the social networks of individuals, emotional reactions to wonder, and the transmission of these narratives.
The Competing Realms of Sense and Reason in Musica
Dr Carol Williams
Aesthetic concerns remain in the background of Western thinking on music until the early modern period. This relative neglect of music as an art is the result of the late emergence of aesthetics as a discipline worthy of study. It is only toward the end of the Middle Ages that music theorists began to pay more attention to the sensuous dimension of music. It begins with Pythagoras (c. 570-c. 490 BCE) for whom mathematics was the discipline that investigates harmony which was understood as the unity of various parts. Thus, the interval of the octave may be expressed as a numerical ratio (2:1) and in turn the octave may be considered as the sum of a fifth (3:2) and a fourth (4:3). These numbers, 1 to 4, adding up to 10 were considered sacred by the Pythagoreans, who named it tetraktys. This metaphysical view of music as a reflection of cosmic order proved to be enormously influential in Western musical thought. As the harmony found in music is essentially the same principle as the one that regulates both the cosmos and the human soul Pythagoreans thought that their view could explain the effects of music on the listener’s mood and character. The most notable opponent of the Pythagorean notion of celestial harmony was Aristotle who argues that physical bodies could not be composed of numbers, for the latter have no weight, whereas the former do (Metaphysics, 14.3). From observation he knows that loud sounds produce a physical effect upon us. The movement of planets in space should produce an even greater effect on us, the absence of which is proof that celestial bodies produce no sound (On the Heavens, 2.9). In addition to rejecting the idea of a celestial harmony, Aristotle also rejects the related notion that the human soul is a kind of harmony (On the Soul, 1.4). The contesting of these two positions charts the history of thinking about music on the way to its inclusion among the arts.
Carol J. Williams is an associate research fellow of the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Monash University and has an established academic career in both musicology and history. Earlier this year she has had “Osbern of Canterbury (d. 1094), musician and theorist” accepted for publication by ISSEME. More recently along with Constant Mews and John Crossley she has had “On the theory and practice of plainchant in the thirteenth century: The De plana musica quae immensurabilis dicitur in Bruges Public Library, MS 528” accepted for publication in the Revue Belge de Musicologie 2024. Carol is also a performing musician, singing and playing harp, vielle and rebec in the early music ensemble, Acord.
Charlotte Brontë’s Anglo-Saxon Attic: An Ecofeminist Reading of The Wife’s Lament
A/Prof Nazan Yıldız
Karadeniz Technical University, Turkey
In the elegiac Anglo-Saxon poetry, men’s worlds are primarily portrayed, as fashioned by wars, exile, and separation. The poetry that represents Anglo-Saxon women’s perspectives is extremely sparse, but women do show some of this chaotic realm in which men define their roles and concomitant identities. This poetry foregrounds a gender-driven hierarchy of power directly linked to ecofeminism and the socioeconomic status of women. Ecofeminism suggests that the source of the hitches of women and nature is common: Male hegemony. Then, to ecofeminists, women and nature can be liberated together. Of the works exemplifying the plight of Anglo-Saxon women due to the male-dominated society, The Wife’s Lament is a conspicuous piece. The Wife’s remarks plagued by intense pain stem from “deep sadness” as a result of her banishment. The woman, probably a peace weaver, laments her life in seclusion when her lord abandons her, most likely due to a blood feud. The predicament of the woman is embodied in the wilderness – dark valleys, high mountains, and a shelter full of thorns – in which she is left alone to live in seclusion, in particular by a cave metaphor. Her role as a woman consists of sitting in her cave and suffering as a hopeless, homeless, and outcast. This cave depiction is similar to Charlotte Brontë’s renowned attic analogy in Villette, which is the equivalent of a woman’s prison life in a male-dominated society. Accordingly, this paper seeks to read nature in The Wife’s Lament parallel to women’s quandary and gender inequality with an ecofeminist lens.
Nazan Yıldız received her PhD with a thesis entitled “Hybridity in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales: Reconstructing the Estate Boundaries” from the English Language and Literature Department at Hacettepe University, Türkiye, in 2015. She holds a certificate in critical thinking skills from the American English Institute, University of Oregon. She has national and international publications including “A Medieval Madwoman in the Attic: Chaucer’s Wife of Bath in The Canterbury Tales”, Madness, Women and the Power of Art (eds.) Davies F, and González L, and “The Other, Otherness and Othering in the Middle Ages.” The Encyclopedia of the Global Middle Ages (ed.) Danna Messer, Bloomsbury Medieval Studies, (forthcoming in October 2023). Her main areas of interest are Medieval English Literature, Medieval History, Chaucer, Old English Literature, the English Novel, Gender Studies, and Critical Thinking and Literature. She is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of English Language and Literature at Karadeniz Technical University, Türkiye.
Ælf and the Problem of Interpretation
University of Toronto
Genesis A and Judith use the word ælfscyne (usually translated “beautiful as an elf”) to describe respectively Abraham’s wife Sarah and the eponymous Judith, constituting the only attestations of this ælf-compound in the Old English corpus. What is the pagan ælf doing in two Christian poems? While ælf’s ambiguities in both etymology and the Anglo-Saxon folklore tradition have posted interpretative challenges that led to self-contradictory explanations in the past, I propose a different reading by actively embracing such ambiguities instead of explaining them away. Based on evidence in Bald’s Leechbook, Leechbook III and Lacnunga – the early medieval medical context lying in the middle ground between Christian and pagan and at the intersection of human experience, interpretation, and practice, I argue that elves in Christian poems similarly function to enjoin belief by alienating doubt and incomprehension, registering them in a safe space itself alienated from Christianity. This interpretation proposes a new possibility that adds to the complex relationships between Christianity and paganism in the age of conversion: besides tensions and oppositions that official records emphasize, or the mutual assimilation that popular sources demonstrate, elves shows that pagan elements have the potential to consolidate Christian belief by mitigating its internal crisis.