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Flesh

  • Suzannah Biernoff
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)

Abstract

A s idea and as substance, medieval flesh was by definition elusive. After all, a ‘shadow’ or ‘fog’—to use Alan of Lille’s words—could hardly be brought to light for observation, or circumscribed by precise definition. In order to work towards an understanding of the flesh—however partial or contingent that may be—I will use the idea of the body as a kind of foil. By pinpointing instances in which flesh and body do not coincide, where one exceeds or disrupts the other, I hope to elucidate their differences.

Keywords

Bodily Shame Passive Body Mortal Element Opening Quote Corporeal Matter 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Alan of Lille, The Plaint of Nature (? 1160–75), trans. J. J. Sheridan (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1980), 183–4 (13).Google Scholar
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    Papias the Lombard, Elementarium Doctrinae Erudimentum (c.1060), quoted in J. B. Friedman, The Monstrous Races in Medieval Art and Thought (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980), 111. Pliny lists over thirty ‘incredible’ races in Book 7 of the Natural History ed. T. E. Page et al., trans. H. Rackham, 10 vols (London: Heinemann, 1942), vol. 2.Google Scholar
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    Hugh of St Victor (c.1096–1141), quoted in M. C. Pouchelle, The Body and Surgery in the Middle Ages , trans. R. Morris (Cambridge: Polity, 1990), 118.Google Scholar
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    Caesarius, bishop of Arles, quoted in J. Le Goff, The Medieval Imagination , trans. A. Goldhammer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 101.Google Scholar
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    The Opus Majus of Roger Bacon trans. R. B. Burke, 2 vols (New York: Russell, 1962), 2: 672 (7.3.3). Underlying such judgements was the medieval understanding of an individual as a ‘psychosomatic unity—a self in which part can stand for whole and in which an imbalance between parts leads to evil’. C. W. Bynum, The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, 200–1336 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), 328 n.38.Google Scholar
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    Plato, Timaeus in Timaeus and Critias trans. D. Lee (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971), 97 (38.69). Alan of Lille repeats Plato’s tripartite division of the body (Timaeus 97–100 (38.69–72)) in his allegory of the ‘perfectly organised state’. Wisdom reigns in the ‘citadel of [man’s] head’, with the ‘heart … in the middle of the earthly city’, and the ‘loins like the city’s outskirts, giv[ing] the lower portions of the body wilful desires’, Plaint of Nature 121 (6).Google Scholar
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    N. G. Siraisi, Medieval and Early Renaissance Medicine (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), 80–1, 107–9. On the primacy of the heart (as opposed to the head) in the corporeal hierarchy of Antiquity through the Middle Ages, see: E. Jager, ‘The Book of the Heart: Reading and Writing the Medieval Subject’, Speculum 71.1 (Jan. 1996): 1–26. As Jager notes, however, Galen located perception and cognition in the brain—which may explain why schematic medical illustrations typically represent the head as prima regio . Examples of the latter are included in M. Camille, ‘The Image and the Self: Unwriting Late Medieval Bodies’, Framing Medieval Bodies , ed. S. Kay and M. Rubin (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1994): 62–99.Google Scholar
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    Hostiensis (d. 1271), commentary on the fifth book of the Decretals, quoted in Camille, ‘The Image and the Self, 72. In this essay, Camille looks at the multiple symbolic dimensions of the medieval (principally fourteenth-century) body, including its function as a microcosm of the universe and the ‘body politic’. On the latter, see also J. Le Goff,’Head or Heart: the Political Use of Body Metaphors in the Middle Ages’, trans. P. Ranum, Fragments for a History of the Human Body, Part III ed. M. Feher, R. Naddaff and N. Tazi, 3 vols (New York: Zone, 1989), 13–26; and Pouchelle, Body and Surgery , 117–20.Google Scholar
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    For a seminal anthropological formulation of the body as a ‘medium of expression’ see M. Douglas, ‘The Two Bodies’ in Natural Symbols: Explorations in Cosmology (London: Barrie, 1970), 93–112. Pouchelle discusses the reciprocal metaphors of body/society and body/architecture in Part II of Body and Surgery .Google Scholar
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    Eleanor Commo McLaughlin, for example, refers to a ‘platonized patristic anthropology that defined the human being as a soul imprisoned in the materiality of the flesh’. McLaughlin,’Equality of Souls, Inequality of Sexes: Woman in Medieval Theology’, Religion and Sexism: Images of Woman in the Jewish and Christian Traditions ed. R. R. Ruether (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1974), 216. Janet Coleman gives a more detailed (and more measured) account of medieval dualism in her Ancient and Medieval Memories: Studies in the Reconstruction of the Past (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).Google Scholar
  18. 46.
    Augustine, Literal Meaning of Genesis 2: 191 (12.11.22). In addition to the tripartite division of sight into corporeal, spiritual and intellectual modes in Book 12 of The Literal Meaning of Genesis we find a trinity of object, attention and vision in The Trinity (11.2); and a trinity of memory (mental simulacra of extramental objects), will and internal vision (11.3–4). Unless otherwise indicated, I have used the following translations of these texts: St Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis trans. and annotated by J. H. Taylor, 2 vols (New York: Newman, 1982); and McKenna’s translation of The Trinity .Google Scholar
  19. 53.
    Further examples are listed in A. C. Thiselton, ‘Flesh’, The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology ed. C. Brown, 3 vols (Exeter: Paternoster, 1975), 1: 672. On the relation between flesh, fallenness and redemption in the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, see also D. Welton, ‘Biblical Bodies’, Body and Flesh: a Philosophical Reader , ed. D. Welton (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), 243–55.Google Scholar
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    Unless otherwise indicated, all Old Testament and New Testament quotations are taken from the New King James Version of the Holy Bible (Nashville: Nelson, 1982).Google Scholar
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    Thiselton, ‘Flesh’, 1: 680. Günther Bornkamm remarks similarly that for Paul, flesh ‘designates man’s being and attitude as opposed to and in contradiction to God and God’s Spirit’. Paul trans. D. M. G. Stalker (London: Hodder, 1975), 133.Google Scholar
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    Augustine, Enarrationes in Psalmos as quoted in K. Lochrie, Margery Kempe and Translations of the Flesh (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991), 19. Because Augustine often refers to the ‘marriage’ of body and soul, I have given these terms in parentheses rather than Lochrie’s ‘flesh and spirit’. See also Peter Brown’s rendering of this passage, Body and Society 426. For a slightly different configuration of the same metaphor (Adam and Eve are likened to ‘virile reason’ and the ‘soul’s appetite’), see St Augustine, On Genesis, Against the Manichees 2.11.15, in St Augustine on Marriage and Sexuality ed. E. A. Clark, Selections from the Fathers of the Church 1 (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1996), 39–40.Google Scholar
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    Richard of St Victor, The Mystical Ark (probably written between 1153 and 1162) in The Twelve Patriarchs, The Mystical Ark, Book Three of the Trinity trans. G. A. Zinn, Classics of Western Spirituality Series (London: SPCK, 1979), 200 (2.17). Meister Eckhart is less optimistic about the relationship between sensuality and the ‘inner man’, preferring ‘the soul [that] draws to itself all its powers it had loaned to the five senses’. Meister Eckhart, ‘German Works’, Meister Eckhart: the Essential Sermons, Commentaries, Treatises, and Defence trans. E. Colledge and B. McGinn, Classics of Western Spirituality Series (New York: Paulist Press, 1981), 290. See also ‘German Works’, 108.Google Scholar
  25. 85.
    See, for example: J. Butler, Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of ‘Sex’ (New York: Routledge, 1993); H. Cixous,’Sorties’, New French Feminisms: an Anthology , ed. E. Marks and I. de Courtivron (New York: Schocken, 1981), 90–8; P. Deutscher, ‘The Evanescence of Masculinity: Deferral in Saint Augustine’s Confessions and Some Thoughts on its Bearing on the Sex/Gender Debate’, Australian Feminist Studies 15 (Autumn 1992): 41–56; L. Irigaray, Speculum of the Other Woman in particular ‘How to Conceive (of) a Girl’ and ‘Une Mère de Glace’, trans. G. C. Gill (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1985), 168–79; G. Lloyd, The Man of Reason: ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ in Western Philosophy (London: Methuen, 1984).Google Scholar
  26. 87.
    St Augustine, The City of God trans. G G. Walsh and D. J. Honan, Fathers of the Church 8 (New York: Fathers of the Church, 1954), 483 (22.24).Google Scholar
  27. 91.
    Aristotle, Generation of Animals 2.4.738b. Unless otherwise indicated, I have quoted from The Complete Works of Aristotle: the Revised Oxford Translation ed. J. Barnes, Bollingen Series, 2 vols (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984). On the union of female matter and male form see also: Generation of Animals 1.20.729a ff. The metaphor is discussed in Lloyd, Polarity and Analogy 264, 369. For Aristotle’s influence on medieval theories of sexuality and human physiology, see: Cadden, Meanings of Sex Difference in the Middle Ages: Medicine, Science, and Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993); and D. Jacquart and C. Thomasset, Sexuality and Medicine in the Middle Ages trans. M. Adamson (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988).Google Scholar
  28. 94.
    On the passivity of the body in relation to the soul, see Augustine, De musica , 6.5.8: ‘Nullo modo igitur anima fabricatori corpori est subjecta materies’. Quoted in The Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy: From the Rediscovery of Aristotle to the Disintegration of Scholasticism 1100–1600 , ed. N. Kretzmann et al. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 443 n.11. See also Augustine, Literal Meaning of Genesis 2: 200 (12.16.33).Google Scholar
  29. 95.
    St Augustine, Confessions trans. R. S. Pine-Coffin (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1961), 344 (13.32). Unless otherwise indicated, all subsequent quotations are from this translation. For additional commentary on this passage, see: Børresen, Subordination and Equivalence 30–4; Deutscher, ‘Evanescence of Masculinity’, 45–7; and Lloyd, Man of Reason 29–33. One could also trace the idea of a gendered soul through John Scotus Eriugena’s Periphyseon (The Division of Nature) , written in c. 865. In Book 2, the Irish philosopher and theologian writes:’the spiritual sexes are understood to exist in the soul—for nous that is intellect, is a kind of male in the soul, while aisthesis that is sense, is a kind of female’. Quoted in Bynum, Resurrection of the Body 145.Google Scholar
  30. 97.
    Isidore of Seville, quoted in Jacquart and Thomasset, Sexuality and Medicine 14. The popular twelfth-century text, De secretis mulierum attributed women’s appetite for sex to the heat generated by the accumulation of menstrual blood. Women’s Secrets: a Translation of Pseudo-Albertus Magnus’ De Secretis Mulierum with Commentaries , trans. H. R. Lemay (New York: State University of New York Press, 1992), 122 (ch. 7).Google Scholar
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    J. W. Baldwin, The Language of Sex: Five Voices from Northern France around 1200 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 134. Baldwin’s source is the Dragmaticon of Guillaume de Conches, written in 1146–9. See also Jacquart and Thomasset, Sexuality and Medicine 81–2.Google Scholar
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    As Jean Leclercq notes, this ‘ability to interpret everything symbolically was greatly developed in the monastic milieux of the high middle ages, and doubtless also among the clerics, and, though probably to a lesser extent, among the laymen’. Monks and Love in Twelfth-Century France: Psycho-Historical Essays (Oxford: Clarendon, 1979), 34.Google Scholar
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    Joseph Goering,’The De Dotibus of Robert Grosseteste’, Mediaeval Studies , 44 (1982): 83–109. An edition of the text is appended to Goering’s article, and the date of the treatise is discussed on pages 94–5.Google Scholar
  34. 125.
    Robert Grosseteste, Hexaemeron , quoted in R. W. Southern, Robert Grosseteste: the Growth of an English Mind in Medieval Europe , 2nd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1992), 219.Google Scholar
  35. 126.
    Although light exists in the order of corporeal things, it has ‘greater similarity than all bodies to the forms that exist apart from matter, namely, the intelligences’. Grosseteste, On Light trans. C. C. Riedl (Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 1978), 10.Google Scholar
  36. 127.
    Otto of Freising, Chronica sive historia de duabus civitatibus , quoted in Bynum, Resurrection of the Body 182. Otto studied in Paris before joining the Cistercians in 1133. The work quoted from here was begun in the 1140s.Google Scholar
  37. 128.
    This definition of impassibilitas is from J. F. Niermeyer, Mediae Latinitatis Lexicon Minus (Leiden: Brill, 1976), 513. See also Bynum’s discussion of the dowering of the body in Resurrection of the Body 121 ff (especially 135–6).Google Scholar
  38. 129.
    A. Boureau, ‘The Sacrality of One’s Own Body in the Middle Ages’, trans. B. Semple, Corps Mystique, Corps Sacré: Textual Transfigurations of the Body from the Middle Ages to the Seventeenth Century , special issue of Yale French Studies 86 (1994): 7.Google Scholar
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    Peter [the] Lombard, Sentences 4.49.4 (1157–8). Peter is borrowing from Augustine, Literal Meaning of Genesis 12.35, quoted in Bynum, Resurrection of the Body 132.Google Scholar

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© Suzannah Biernoff 2002

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