Today’s discussion about the nobility of hunting really sparked an interest within me to look deeper into the reasons behind the numerous wolf hunts t hat occurred within the Middle Ages. We know from the discussion today that there were several purposes attributed to the hunting of animals. In most cases the purpose of the hunt was the chase in itself, culminating within the equally important kill and ceremonial dismemberment. Sometimes animals were hunted for their meat, i.e. the poachers that we read about for today, or the nobles and huntsmen were just trying to keep the populations down within the deer parks and warrens (culling). Most other hunters justified their hunting activities by stating that they were eliminating other predators, especially the wolf, which is typically personified to be evil amongst society within the Middle Ages. This final observation got me thinking, was it really necessary to hunt and kill all those wolves just on the pretense that they were evil and therefore harmful to others?
Within Pluskowksi’s Wolves and the Wilderness in the Middle Ages he specifically mentions within Ch.4 that in places, “Where a wolf population is predominantly reliant on a single wild prey species, and the prey population is seasonally depleted, wolf attacks on livestock may increase.” In that case, it is not really the wolf’s fault that he invaded the human domain in search for food; he was just following his basic animal instincts, the ones that people within the Middle Ages clearly believed all animals followed since they made it quite clear that animals had no free will of their own. Pluskowski also makes it a point to mention to the reader that “whilst the wolf was set in predatory opposition to sheep in Christian thought, in the physical landscape wolves were almost certainly targeting wild ungulates first and livestock second.” Therefore do we still agree with the Middle Age perception of the wolf as being inherently evil, and a nuisance which must be exterminated or do we delve deeper within the past and explore the reasons behind the necessity of the wolf hunt?
Since, this is also a problem that I am trying to explore for my research paper I have been doing a lot of research upon the wolf and the ways in which Middle Age people perceived it and also responded to it. What I have come upon so far was that the wolf was first associated with the Scriptures, specifically within the Old and New Testaments. Donalson states that within the Old Testament “wolves are especially dangerous in the evening, which is suggestive already of their stealth, cunning, treachery, under the cover of darkness (Habakkuk). In fact the very strength of their negative image offers itself in the depiction of leaders who wreak havoc instead of governing justly, leaders who are not above doing harm to their charges that compares to blood-letting (Genesis, Ezekiel and Zephaniah).” He mentions that within the book of Genesis man was first described as having wolf-like characteristics. “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; mornings he devours his prey, and evenings he distributes the spoils.” It is clear to the audience that the wolf was a perfect example of insatiable behavior of men and the greed that could ruin them. The New Testament did not improve the perception of the wolf; it actually might have made it worse. This is where the wolf began to clearly be personified as a sign of the agent of Satan. The most famous example of this distinction occurs within Matthew 10:16: “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves.”  Since the Gospel has already solidified the image of Christ as the Good Shepherd who, “will lay down his life for the sheep” , the reader knows that the wolves are clearly the agents of the devil who is conspiring against Christ, just waiting for him to turn away so that it can devour the flock.
The way I see it, is that this general fear inspired by the scriptures and then later more thoroughly developed within bestiaries (in which the wolf was described as being an animal which is “rapacious, craves blood and can deprive a man of the power of speech), beast epics and poems such as Aesop’s Fables, Ysengrimus and Reynard the Fox, (which were all meant to be allegorical and moral stories to warn people of the deceit and greediness of the wolf character whether it was presented as an actual wolf as in the fables or a wolf-monk within Ysengrimus). Early Middle Age literature in general led to this great fear of the wolf, even though Pluskowski makes it quite clear that “there is a general lack of documentary evidence for wolf attacks on people in Medieval Britain and Scandinavia.”
So, if there is little evidence that wolves posed a threat to humans beyond the potential threat to livestock, due to a scarcity in its food supply, was it really necessary to hunt them to extinction within England? In a later chapter, Pluskowski mentions that the wolf may have been as commodity, especially within Scandinavia, France (that actually has records of this) and southern Europe. “Pelts were available from major trading hubs in both northern and southern Europe; the Florentine mercantile agent Francesco Pegolotti, writing in the mid-fourteenth century, mentions that wolf skins could be obtained from Sicily and Majorca.” Despite that, there was not a great market for wolf pelts in general due to the general negative characteristics of the wolf. We also know that wolf meat was considered inedible amongst Christians, and therefore useless. This once again raises the question of the necessity of the wolf hunt.
Middle Age people were not using the wolf meat, they were not reveling in the chase or the ceremonial kill, like they were when hunting other animals, they were not culling, and wolves scarcely if ever attacked humans. The only threat the wolf displayed was to livestock, which it only encroached upon when its own food supply was scarce. In the end, the wolf was not really a predator that necessitated total extermination. The society imposed upon the wolf this image of the evil, greedy being and facilitated this general fear. In reality the wolf was just following its baser nature as all animals fashioned by God do.
What do you think? Is the perception of the wolf a correct one? Was it necessary to exterminate this animal? Take into account that wolves have also been documented as useful parts of spiritual rituals and amulets, and have also been present as artistic examples of heraldry. I will be examining a lot more within my paper, but to me it seems problematic that the wolf was being considered as a less noble animal than any other and hunted using cunning and trickery with nets and snares and pit traps all due to this general perception of it being Satanic and evil.
 Pluskowski, Aleksander. Wolves and the Wilderness in the Middle Ages. Woodbridge NY: The Boydell Press, 2006. Ch.4 pg. 91.
 Pluskowski, Aleksander. Wolves and the Wilderness in the Middle Ages. Woodbridge NY: The Boydell Press, 2006. Ch.4 pg. 93
 Donalson, Malcolm Drew. The History of the wolf in Western Civilization: from Antiquity to the Middle Ages. Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press, Ltd, 2006. Pg. 11.
 Donalson, Malcolm Drew. The History of the wolf in Western Civilization: from Antiquity to the Middle Ages. Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press, Ltd, 2006. Pg.5.
 Donalson, Malcolm Drew. The History of the wolf in Western Civilization: from Antiquity to the Middle Ages. Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press, Ltd, 2006. Pg. 18
 Donalson, Malcolm Drew. The History of the wolf in Western Civilization: from Antiquity to the Middle Ages. Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press, Ltd, 2006. Pg.21
 Pluskowski, Aleksander. Wolves and the Wilderness in the Middle Ages. Woodbridge NY: The Boydell Press, 2006. Ch. 5 pg. 95.
 Pluskowski, Aleksander. Wolves and the Wilderness in the Middle Ages. Woodbridge NY: The Boydell Press, 2006. Ch. 6 pg. 112.