What does it mean to be an animal? To be a human? And what does reading have to do with anything?
Animal studies and the environmental humanities are ideas that are increasingly familiar to 21st-century readers; viewed here through the lens of some of the finest and most intriguing Medieval and Renaissance literary works from the Romance world, with important interactions with other literatures around the whole world and influences on later European literatures, and spanning a range of forms: from short poems to encyclopaedias, from fables to bestiaries, from saints’ miracles to dramatic multimedia satires.
We will start small: listening to a frog in a 12th-century Troubadour poem in Old Occitan by Marcabru, “Bel m’es quan la rana chanta.” We will revisit this frog at the end of the course, to see how our readings have changed along the way.
Our two set / required texts in the main body of the course are originally in 12th- and 16th- century French; through them, we will meet animals in associated works from France, Italy, and Spain. There will be reading about animals, of animals, and physically on animals (through online digitised manuscripts and books in the library); shape-shifting; animals reading (and speaking, interacting, and otherwise showing evidence of sentience and thinking); and reading humans as animals (via Montaigne). Along the way, readings and student presentations may converse with—for example—wolves, dogs, foxes, bears, birds, bees, donkeys, horses, deer, cats, squirrels, rabbits, snails, unicorns, hedgehogs, lions, chickens, sheep, fish, whales, otters, beavers (and of course frogs).
All texts will be worked on in English translation, though students will have the option, if they wish, of using versions in the original (or a modernized variant) in their final projects.
The Lais of Marie de France, ed. and trans. Glyn S. Burgess (Penguin Classics, any edition)
Montaigne, The Complete Essays, ed. and trans. M. A. Screech (Penguin Classics, any edition)
Language of instruction: English