HUM 303

The Monstrous Middle Ages

Why does monstrosity assume such a visible place in medieval culture? Gothic babwyns (grotesques) gambol in the margins of liturgical manuscripts, function as downspouts on cathedrals, and appear in epics and chivalric romances as forces of both good and evil. This course explores medieval ontology, the nature of creation, and our human ability to know it fully, through the monstrous. The course begins with an art historical introduction to Classical theories of monstrosity reflected in visual traditions that medieval artists and writers inherited. The role of the monstrous in pagan, classical culture serves as a contrast to the place monsters assume in the evolving Christian contexts the course sets forth as interdisciplinary case studies in medieval monstrosity. Each case study sets up a historical context for the study of monstrosity, informed by a specific material and literary culture. Recent research in art history, geography, anthropology, literary history, and cultural studies inform the course's interdisciplinary format.