Tuesday, November 30, 2010
In a passage from The Prince, Machiavelli writes that "[t]o have as a teacher a half-beast, half-man means nothing other than that a prince needs to know how to use both natures; and the one without the other is not lasting." (XVIII) He goes on to encourage princes to participate in their beastly nature because it is out of necessity. Of all the animals, "he should pick the fox and the lion, because the lion does not defend itself from snares and the fox does not defend itself from wolves. So one needs to be a fox to recognize snares and a lion to frighten the wolves." Machiavelli takes two predatory animals, combines their qualities to create a set of desirable traits for a prince.
I thought I'd post this because I saw a few themes we discussed in class floating around in this passage. First, Machiavelli doesn't tell his reader (Lorenzo d'Medici) to refrain from being the animal, but says that it is required of him (as a ruler) to become the animal when necessity arises. He emphasizes this by drawing from the qualities from two animals. The fox represents cunning while the lion symbolizes ferocity. These two animals are then juxtaposed with the wolf, which represents chaos, calamity, and disorder in this context. He advises the young prince, simply being a lion will not help defend oneself from wolves, "the one who has known best how to use the fox has come out the best." This pitting of the fox against the wolf (and vice versa) reminded me of Renard the Fox. Although in class, I don't think we quite knew whether to classify Renard as good or bad but Machiavelli would praise the cunning, deceit, and boldness of Renard. This animosity between the fox and the wolf appears in Machiavelli's work-though I doubt that he was writing with the tales in mind.
Some cute pictures I stumbled upon...
Ysengrin ensnared by Renard's trap.
AND I just love the expression on Renard's face.
Monday, November 29, 2010
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
In her book Pets, Erica Fudge describes the gap in contemporary animal scholarship produced by the pet figure; whereas the medieval cat may have been more easily reviled for its familiar unfamiliarity, while the dog was admirable insofar as it was in tune with human desires, the contemporary pet is seen as denatured, as somehow less than animal (in Deleuze and Guattari's terms, the Oedipal animal). I'm reminded of Pen and Teller's (infuriating) episode of Bullsh*t in which they attack pet owners who seem to understand their pet as more than just a dumb animal; modern pet owners, at least in theory, operate between the ideas that the pet is either just a subservient animal, and therefore an unnecessary object of misplaced love, or that it is less than an animal and that what we call love is somehow denaturing the pet, saddling it with our own emotional/cultural baggage, Oedipal or otherwise. In both cases, the dependency of the pet is what makes it contemptible.
What is most interesting in Fudge's analysis of the function of the modern pet for the purpose of this course is what she and Yi-Fu Tuan call the "ontological security" a pet provides in a modern human home. Pets receive the affection we're unable to lavish elsewhere in the isolation of modern urban society, and they "give secure meaning to humans in an insecure modern world; they allow humans to live as if with a self-assured identity" (17). While they confirm our humanity, for better or worse, and allow us the connection with animals whose lack is characteristic of urban modernity, the existence of an animal in the home undermines our authority as well in defying our capacity to bound inside from outside: the cat-flap, Fudge remarks, "reveals the lack of security that is created by the pet" (19). She again formulates the pet as "a being that can reflect back to us our fragility even as it allows us to express a sense of power and control" (20): while I don't propose to conflate the modern cat with its medieval precursor, this ontological security is tellingly reminiscent of the hierarchy of creation we discussed in class.
Cats in this respect remain very different from dogs: from Pen and Teller's standpoint (which, in accordance with the show's general assumption of "common sensical-ness", distills more general cultural assumptions about its subject), cat ownership appears as somehow degenerate a priori, while dog owners have more leeway to love and know their animals before it becomes unacceptable. There remains the idea that dogs offer us something in the way of a relationship that cats do not, the image of a cat whose love for us is entirely manufactured by our own loneliness, or even a similar inability to interact with people. Cats are excessive, desired just for being what they are rather than insofar as they relate to us directly: mainstream cat competition is purely aesthetic, while dogs have agility meets, and even the dog show demands that they run around the ring with their handler/owner/partner. For those concerned with denaturing the animal, however, the dog's need to please is more problematic than the cat's "independent" dependency (I do feel uncomfortable talking about dogs and cats in general, as though there were a general cat, but I'll correct for that in a moment). In terms of popular animal lore, lost dogs travel great distances to find home and may die of grief at their master's passing; we have the competing image of the fear of being an old woman who dies alone and gets eaten by her cats.
Particularly interesting for the purpose of this course is Fudge's tracing of the movement from dog to cat in philosophy. She notes Basil the Great's use of the dog as a figure for philosophy, "sniff[ing] towards the truth" (77). The dog is here abstracted, reminding us of the superiority of our thought to their scent in finding such truths (77); in contrast, Michel de Montaigne asks, "When I play with my cat, who knows if I am not a pastime to her more than she is to me?" The cat challenges the domestic sphere in a way that the dog does not (one rarely hears cat "owners" refer to themselves as such), and Fudge remarks that Montaigne's statement here rejects abstraction in favor of the real everydayness of playing with a cat: "symbolic animals have no place in his argument as they are always already human constructions" (79).
And now for my own disgusting cat (shown above). Sophie, of gentle mien and powerful scent. Her beauty distracts me from God, and her litter box humbles me again. Or something like that. Fudge ultimately argues that it is our guessing at what could constitute animal joy that makes love possible in this relationship. My cat takes joy in things that smell horrible (the best way to lure a lost cat into his carrier? Meat-flavored baby food), in inconvenient things (my laptop cord=the best toy ever). But even as I absorb and inevitably repeat our various cultural myths about snobby, dominating cats, or crazy cat people, etc, my cat is somehow outside this. She's much more affectionate than the stereotypical cat (I could project a lot here about her being a rescue animal, but calling our relationship "gratitude" is really, thoroughly uncomfortable). She roams the apartment, does her thing, and we encounter each other throughout the day.
Erica Fudge. Pets. Stocksfield: Acumen Publishing, 2008.
Sara Lipton, “Jews, heretics, and the sign of the cat in the Bible moralisée,” Word and Image 8.4 (1992): 362-77.
See also Jezebel's "Myth and Reality of the Crazy Cat Lady" here: http://jezebel.com/5296696/the-myth--reality-of-the-crazy-cat-lady
Quotes from Thomas Aquinas’ On Law, Morality, and Politics:
Regarding Jews: “Let them be legally free to observe and celebrate their holy days, as they and their ancestors have for so long observed and celebrated them in worship up to now…And so Jews observing their religious rites produce good, namely, that our enemies bear witness to our faith, and that their rites represent to us in figures, as it were, what we believe. “ (193)
Regarding Heretics: “But rulers should in no way tolerate the religious rites of other unbelievers, who contribute no truth or benefit…” (193)
“And so if secular rulers justly put counterfeiters and other felons immediately to death, much more could heretics be both excommunicated and justly killed immediately upon conviction of heresy.” (195)
As we were comparing and contrasting these passages in my SOSC class this morning, I was immediately reminded of Sara Lipton’s “Jews, heretics, and the sign of the cat in the Bible moralisee.” It was quite clear and evident from Lipton’s dissection of the texts and images in the Bible moralisee that the author classified Jews and heretics under the same category. However, Thomas Aquinas, one of the most eminent medieval theologians, separates the Jews from the heretics. Their presence in the society is to serve as a counter-example to what the Christians saw as the triumph of the New Testament over the Old Law. The heretics, on the other hand, are like “rotten flesh” that must be cut off lest it contaminate the rest of the body. Politically, more so than religiously, Aquinas views heretics to be threatening because they have the potential to corrupt the faith and faithful, whereas the Jews are seen to merely want enough religious tolerance to keep their customs that were once the truth faith (before Christ).
` Thus, in theory, Jews were to be given a certain degree of toleration. However, how should we define “toleration” in medieval terms? Were Jews “tolerated” as long as they were allowed to live in a segregated area of the town or as long as they were not “purged” from the land? Or, are we speaking of intent and internal actions? If so, animal imagery in medieval artwork can tell us a lot about the artist’s intent behind using animal imagery to channel intolerance.
Lipton points out three methods used by the author/illustrator in the Vienna Bible moralisee in linking Jews with heretics. The first method is random mention of Jews and heretics in the text while the second method involves visual techniques to group heretics and Jews into one. The third method is achieved by creating or adopting “a specific iconographical symbol for heresy,” such as the cat. (364) In many of the images that accompany the texts of the Bible Moralisee, Jews (distinguishable by the pointed hats and beards) are painted together with heretics, holding a cat or kissing it under the tail. This act of “worshipping” the cat became the symbol for heresy, but soon, the animal itself only had to be held by a person to denote heresy.
Can animal imagery, in this context, tell us a lot about the degree of toleration granted by Christians to Jews in popular thought and real practice (in addition to/in lieu of the facts and information we know about the heinous crimes that stemmed from anti-Semitism)?
I apologize for the disturbing content but here's something I came across when I googled "medieval cats heresy." To inflict even greater punishment on the "convicted" heretic or criminal, authorities used "cat paws" to rip the victim's flesh to shreds. With hands unavailable to ward off flies and other insects, the accused would suffer even more as blood flowed from the shredded body. (From http://www.lawbuzz.com/tyranny/torture/hanging.htm)
It's interesting that the instrument of torture for heretics would be named "cat paws."
Aristotle. Politics. Translated by C.D.C. Reeve. Indianapolis and Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1998.
Sara Lipton, “Jews, heretics, and the sign of the cat in the Bible moralisée,” Word and Image 8.4 (1992): 362-77.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
- A mewing cat is no good mouser. (Port., Gato meador nunca bom murador)
- You can have no more of a cat than her skin.
- The cat loves fish, but she’s loth to wet her feet.
- The more you rub a cat on the rump, the higher she sets up her tail.
- Though the cat winks a while, yet sure she is not blind.
- How can the cat help it, if the maid be a fool? (Ital., Che ne può la gatta, se la massara è matta) – refers to not putting valuable things in a secure place where the cat can’t destroy them
- When the cat is away, the mice will play.
- When candles are out, all cats are grey. – refers to infidelity
- The cat knows whose lips she licks.
- Cry you mercy, kill’d my cat – “This is spoken to them who do one a shrewd turn, then make satisfaction with asking pardon or crying mercy”
- I’ll keep no more cats than will catch mice. – refers to not keeping anyone in the household who will not do their share of work
- Who shall hang the bell about the cat’s neck? – refers to a fable in which the mice gather to decide how to deal with the problem of the cat; they agree that to put a bell around its neck would be the best way to incapacitate the cat’s stealthy attack, but then the question comes, who will dare to put the bell on the cat?
- If the lion’s skin cannot, the fox’s shall. – that which cannot be done by force may be done by stealth
- The lion’s not half so fierce as he’s painted.
- The fox preys farthest from his hole. – Thieves steal far from home, to avoid suspicion
- The fox never fares better than when he is bann’d.
- When the fox preaches, beware of your geese.
- Fire, quoth the fox, when he pissed on the ice. – “This is spoken in derision to those which have great expectation from some fond design or undertaking which is not likely to succeed”
- The fox knows much, but more he that catcheth him.
- Every fox must pay his own skin to the flayer.
- A fox should not be of the jury at a goose trial.
- ‘Tis a good hose that never stumbles, and a good wife that never grumbles.
- A good horse often wants a good spur.
- ‘Tis an ill horse will not carry his own provender.
- Let a horse drink when he will, not what he will.
- The best horse needs breaking, and the aptest child needs teaching.
- A galled horse will not endure the comb.
- You may know the horse by his harness.
- A short horse is soon wisp’d, and a bare ass soon kiss’d.
- The horse that draws his halter is not quite escaped.
- A running horse is an open sepulchre.
- Every dog hath his day, and every man his hour.
- The hindmost dog may catch the hare.
- He that would hang his dog, give out first that he is mad. – “He that is about to do any thing disingenuous, first bethinks himself of some plausible pretence”
- He that keeps another man’s dog, shall have nothing left him but the line. – i.e., he who bestows a gift upon an ungrateful person loses its cost.
- What! keep a dog, and bark myself? – i.e., I have servants, and I must do my own work?
- There are more ways to kill a dog than hanging.
- Dogs bark before they bite.
- ‘Tis an ill dog that deserves not a crust.
- A good dog deserves a good bone.
- He that lies down with dogs, must rise up with fleas.
- Hungry dogs will eat dirty puddings.
Proverbs, as we can see, are a rich resource for thinking about animals as types, symbols, and stand-ins, because it is clear that they figure in a very different way in the public imagination than they do in something like a bestiary. Given that bestiaries were often religious, moralizing works that were more concerned with understanding and teaching truth, proverbs, fables, and fairy-tales may indeed suggest a different world of animal personalities and representations that is perhaps closer to the “popular” imagination of the time than works of philosophy and metaphysics.
Bohn, Henry G. (Henry George), 1796-1884. A handbook of proverbs : comprising an entire republication of Ray's collection of English proverbs, with his additions from foreign languages : and a complete alphabetical index : in which are introduced large additions, as well of proverbs as of sayings, sentences, maxims, and phrases, collected by Henry G. Bohn. London : H. G. Bohn, 1857.
Gray, Douglas. "Notes on Some Medieval Mystical, Magical and Moral Cats." In Langland, the mystics, and the medieval English religious tradition : essays in honour of S.S. Hussey, ed., Helen Phillips. Cambridge : D.S. Brewer ; Rochester, NY, USA : Boydell & Brewer, 1990.
Monday, November 22, 2010
Saturday, November 20, 2010
*Please excuse the pun in the title. I watched too much Monty Python as a child.
Friday, November 19, 2010
(I have no idea what this picture is about, I just couldn’t resist.)
Do we still liken each other to animals when we want to insult each other? I was pondering this today in class as we discussed the various animals that figure amongst medieval name calling, and it seems to me that animal insults have somehow over the years lost some punch. No doubt the terms “bitch” and “ass” are still popular favorites, but it seems that after centuries of increased urbanization and subsequent distancing from quite a few animals, human/animal comparison have faded significantly in the contemporary vernacular.
Now to veer off track a bit. A simple google search on the subject of “animal insults” brought up a very interesting site that catalogues a number of animals and their associated meaning when applied to human beings, revealing some interesting discrepancies. For instance, in English when we refer to a person as a “chicken”, we intimate that that person is a coward. In Turkish however, it evidently signifies someone who goes to bed early…. ? A camel is likened to a “stupid, nasty man” in the Portuguese language. In German, a “rhinoceros” might mean a stupid person. Can you compare anything to a rhinoceros? Perhaps these usages are a bit archaic, so I wanted to invite anyone fluent in a second language to comment. I noticed in a BBC article that dealt with “swearing” in a very broad sense, that an old Icelandic insult was to call someone a “cod”, but the word no longer carries derisive connotations. Nowadays the word “jam” might be used as an affront, (primarily amongst the young Icelanders).
But even with regards to the English language, do you feel that animal comparisons make the most denigrating insults, or have we moved on to stranger terms to verbally abuse our peers? Just something to think about.
So I decided to do some research into other animal trials that have occurred in the modern age, and it seems like this framework I just set up in the preceding paragraph is not as solid as it would seem. Based on the examples below, our legal system may not be so removed from the one that ordered cockchafer larvae, "to appear before the bishop in order to tell their story." (Dinzelbacher 412)
1. German Shepherd Gets Old Sparky:
In January 1926, a stray German Shepherd in Kentucky was charged with the attempted murder of a small child. it was sentenced to death and executed in the electric chair. Unfortunately I could not find any further evidence on this case -- such as how they managed to effectively strap the dog in.
2. Monkey Charged With Assault:
Bottle-Alley was home to a street minstrel named Cassio Dillio, who possessed a "large specimen of the monkey tribe" named Jimmy. One day, as Cassio grinded his crank and Jimmy danced a jig, a "Robust daughter of the Emerald isle," Mary Shea, decided to give little Jimmy a piece of candy as a token of appreciation. Once Jimmy began to chow-down, Mary tried to have a little fun with him by snatching the candy from back. The monkey "thereupon assumed a decidedly aggressive attitude" and bit Mary's finger. Cassio and Jimmy were arrested and to court the case went.
Upon hearing the case the judge stated, "If Mr. Darwin were prosecutor in this case, he might succeed in convincing me that the statues authorize the holding of criminal monkeys, but I do not think I can legally commit him." Miss Shea protested, but to no avail. Jimmy removed his velvet hat, climbed atop the judge's desk and attempted to shake his hand. It is reported that the official police blotter for the case read: "Name: Jimmy Dillio; Occupation: Monkey; Disposition: Discharged."
3. Cats and the Right to Free Speech:
In Augusta, Georgia in 1981, local resident Carl Miles took to the streets to show off his incredible talking cat, Blackie. Carl and his wife Elaine made a pretty good living off of Blackie and her two catchphrases, "I love you" and "I want my momma." They made such a good living, in fact, that the state informed them that they needed to file for a business license in order to continue or face jail time. The Mileses eventually caved, but appealed the case in an effort to challenge the constitutional validity of the Augusta city ordinance as they believed it infringed on Blackie's 1st Amendment rights.
However, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the lower-court decision, adding the following in a footnote:
This Court will not hear a claim that Blackie's right to free speech has been infringed. First, although Blackie arguably possesses a very unusual ability, he cannot be considered a "person" and is therefore not protected by the Bill of Rights. Second, even if Blackie had such a right, we see no need for appellants to assert his right jus tertii. Blackie can clearly speak for himself.