The Humanity of the Medieval Wildman
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On September 22, MEMS Director Peggy McCracken spoke in the Rackham Amphitheatre to mark the public celebration of her collegiate professorship. Her introduction to the topic runs as follows.
"There are many stories about wildmen in medieval Europe, and in this lecture I focus on one particularly strange example from fourteenth-century France. Tristan de Nanteuil recounts the story of a foundling raised by animals in the forest, but describes the forest as a place of organized social relations among the animals and the child, and even imagines that they share a symbolic kinship.
The wild boy discovers his human identity in a series of encounters with gendered bodies, and ultimately leaves animal society to take his place in a noble human lineage. In its representations of animality and gendered embodiment, this fictional text offers a perspective on what it means to be human, even as it questions the categories through which human distinction is commonly defined."
For those who don't already know her, Peggy McCracken's teaching and research interests engage the intersections of medieval literature, history, and theory. Her most recent book is the forthcoming (Spring 2017) In the Skin of a Beast: Sovereignty and Animality in Medieval France. In earlier projects she explored the intersections of medieval theories and practices of queenship with romances about adulterous queens, and the ways in which gendered cultural values are mapped onto representations of blood. Her most recent books focus on Barlaam and Josaphat, a widely circulating medieval saint's life based on the life of the Buddha, and she is currently at work on Ovidian Ecologies, a study of medieval translations of stories from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.