Verner 2005

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Verner, Lisa. The Epistemology of the Monstrous in the Middle Ages. New York: Routledge, 2005.


"the function of the monster, its ability to show humankind something about divinity, becomes more important than, but inseparable from, the monster itself." (3)

animals/monsters fo the Bestiary "do not 'show' only in the religious realm; by this point their potential moralities have branched out into areas I would designate secular morality" (5)

Mandeville: "less concerned with the monster's function on the moral symbolic level than were prvious works" (6)

  • "Whereas very early works confine the monster's significance to the strictly religious realm and the Bestiary introduces the possibility of practical morality was well, in the Travels monsters signify on the spiritual, moral, political and mercantile planes, sometimes simultaneously but almost always independently." (6)
  • in Mandeville, "the potential meanings of monsters, and of everything else of which Mandeville speaks, have become so fluid and diverse as to have virtually eliminated the possibility of any stable, originary referent; here monsters are purely situational" (10)

The Bestiary

difference with Physiologus tradition (92)

used as sermon source-book (93); also by romance writings and authors of hunting manuals (94)

"the Bestiary's moralities often exhibit a sophisticated multilayer effect indicative of the late medieval expansion of potential meanings." (102)
"the Bestiary is a transitional text between the world of authoritative cosmology and its splintering into separate and mostly independent ways of knowing, including literary caprice and empirical observation, for it utilizes all methods of knowing, sometimes within the same entry" (117-8)

12th century is transitional; 12th century, arrival of new secular function of the bestiary (118)

Mandeville's Travels

"in Mandeville's Travels the east does not function as just another physical place waiting to be 'read' (by Christians) or misinterpreted (by Alexander the Great) but rather as a multi-thematic venue full of potential meanings -- religious, mercantile, and political" (127)
"the reader finds all mixed together in this single chapter information on geography, local legend, tourism and trade intermingled with religion. Such intermingling would not be all that surprising unless one also considered the standard format for travel writing that came before the Travels. Early Christian travel writing consisted almost entirely of only religious matters." (133)
"In the Travels the scriptural and religious worlds intertwine in a Christian narrative to suggest that now the writer and presumably his audience would have a place in their worldview for multiple significances -- religious, secular, geographical, and mercantiel -- derived from basically the same information or information about the same place, and Mandeville extracts these multiple meanings from sources that tend to be oblivious to matters not immediately and directly related to their own narrowly focused concerns." (136)
"The religious thus does not negate the mercantile, or worldly, way of thinking, nor does the world necessarily jeopardize religion; they are individualized, yet capable of interacting."
"te travels offers its audience a variety of ways of meaning intermingled, and that commercial issues comprise merely one path of signification among many in contrast to the single paths one finds in Mandeville's sources. Monsters and marvels, as will become apparent, constitute mere vehicles for meaning along these many paths, having shed their necessarily moral and didactic significance and having become subservient to meanings that may be moral or religious but that may also be entirely secular and amoral." (141)
"The monsters of the Travels are ubiquitous and various, but by no means uniform in their functions and meanings. Like the rest of the text, the monsters potentially have multiple meanings -- religious and secular -- and occasionally have no 'meaning' or signification at all." (143-4)

suggests Mandeville's monsters are part of "Augustine's superabudnacne of creation secularized into Aristotelian empiricism" (149)


"The medieval monster's undeviating participation in the acts of reading and interpretation makes the monster a distinctly literary endeavor." (157)