Thursday, April 30, 2015

Parks and Nature

Yellowstone National Park is seen as a place where nature has been undisturbed and where truly wild animals can live. Of course, the very act of ordering a park alters the animals within as their populations are maintained by human influence. Injured or sick animals are rescued and treated, and special efforts are made to encourage breeding. In medieval Europe, these effects were far more pronounced. The creation of artificial fish ponds and glades would have transformed the medieval landscape. In the park, there is a tension between artifice and the natural world.

Syke describes the legal transformation that overtook the English environment. Before the Norman conquest, wild animals were considered “nobody’s property.” (162) Both Sykes and Birrell agree that the introduction of the park system to Britain was a method of expanding noble property. By declaring parts of the forest necessary to protect, the king established dominion over more and more land. The new protections afforded to quarry animals led to an increase in game on owned property.

Birell describes the extent to which deer parks were altered and maintained for the deer population. Nobles would create artificial pools for the deer to drink from, provide food for the deer during winter, and “watchers” would be hired to make sure young deer survived into adulthood. Even though the deer were considered “ferae”, or wild creatures, their treatment had many of the hallmarks of domestication. These populations were kept so artificially large and stable that it was possible to produce detailed records of just how many there were in a given area. Birell also observes the amount of venison that park-owning nobles were able to consume. The availability of the meat suggests that the hunting of deer was not so difficult.

Wolf hunts would have dramatically transformed the European environment. The nobles went to great trouble to hunt down wolves, extinguishing their populations in some parts of Europe, but it’s not clear why. Wolves were seen as dangerous, but there were very few records of actual wolf attacks harming humans or livestock, even as human expansion brought them closer to wolf habitats. This proximity was probably responsible for much of the anxiety, but this would also probably have not been enough to motivate noble efforts to hunt wolves. Despite the challenges involved in hunting wolves, Pluskowski writes that hunting wolves was not seen as a glamorous activity. Phoebus’ illustrations reflect this, as he depicts the huntsmen trapping wolves, instead of the nobles engaging them in close combat as they did the pigs. Wolf pelts were sold, but very rarely. Still, the nobles did expend resources clearing their parks of wolves, destroying the British wolf population. There was something about wolves that endangered the noble way of life.

It may be that the cause for the wolf hunt was to further enforce the boundaries of the park. Wolves hunting deer are doing the same thing as peasants poaching on noble property: depriving the nobles of hunting targets. The wolves are just as much poachers as criminal peasants. Pluskowski finds that deer and wild boar made up the majority of the wolf’s diet. As such, the only property the wolves truly threatened were the deer and the boar. With the preponderance of legal protection put in place for the deer, it’s easy to imagine that the gravest anxiety wolves presented was their threat towards quarry populations.

Bravery is often attributed to the hunter in medieval literature. This bravery was required by two aspects of hunting. The first was the physical challenge. Many stories were told of hunters who died in the pursuit of a particularly rare quarry. Theibeaux describes an attraction to the myth of Heracles, who is “forced to expiate his wrongs by pursuing and controlling fantastic and noxious beasts…” As we’ve discussed, most of the beasts that the noble might encounter on a hunt were already controlled and pursued by his huntsmen. To prepare for the hunt, the huntsmen would track down the quarries, prepare a route by placing dogs and men at certain points, and then allow the noble to give chase. The more noxious beasts would have been already killed. Still, there would have been some merit to the idea that the hunt could be dangerous. A wild boar could kill with its tusks, and one famously killed a king of France. However, most of the danger of hunting would have been mitigated by the properties of the hunt.

The idea of the untamed wilderness also allows for a personification of nature. In the hunting legends, hunters pursue their quarries and evade perils and vices. While medieval Europe did not have the same dichotomy between nature and civilization we had today, the wild world was anthropomorphized to hold a seductive danger. The transpierced stag that Theibeaux describes symbolizes this temptation. For this sort of personification to work, there had to be some difference between the woods and the manor. The image of the harried stag, for example, simply can’t exist in a forest where every challenge to its existence has been solved by the owner of the park.

The economic reason for parks was to generate deer and establish larger domains for nobles. A cynical approach to the concept of the park may suggest that the mythologizing of the hunt was necessary for justifying this kind of economic expansion. Today’s national parks also serve an economic purpose, generating tourism money and leasing parts of the park to the lumber industry. Poaching on these parks is still illegal, for the same reasons as it was in medieval times. However, the popularity and importance that parks receive can’t be solely explained by an economic rationale. Scientists carry out real environmental studies in national parks, despite their artificial nature. We genuinely see these places as wild and natural, and the human interference that allows these parks to exist is justified as sustaining this natural environment. With the romantic attention paid to the park in medieval times, the same might be said for then.


Hunting Prey, Wild or Domestic?

In 968, Emperor Otto I sent Liudprand, Bishop of Cremona, on a diplomatic mission to Constantinople.  In his report to the German emperor, Liudprand misses no opportunity to disparage the eastern empire, painting a picture of a gaudy, weak, and effeminate culture.  One of the ways he does this is to criticize their hunting practices.  When the Byzantine Emperor Nicepheros invites Liudprand out on a hunt, he promises that the bishop will marvel to see the enormity of his hunting preserves, and his wild donkeys.  Liudprand is unimpressed by the quality of the landscape, complaining that it is “hilly, overgrown, and unpleasant” (Liudprand, 261).  When the prey appears, Liudprand reports to Otto, “there rushed toward me some of those creatures they call wild donkeys… the very same kind as are tame at Cremona.  The same color, the same shape, the same ears, equally vocal when they begin to bray, not uneven in size, the same speed, equally tasty for wolves” (Liudprand, 261).  The same can be found in the market at Cremona, but they “are called domesticated, not wild donkeys, and are not bare-backed, but bearing loads” (Liudprand, 261).
This distinction between the hunting of wild and domestic animals sheds some light on the practice of deer farming in Norman England described by Jean Birrell.  Deer seem not to fit easily into either of these categories.  They were certainly managed and actively cared for, and on such a scale that Birrell argues they must be considered “a significant aspect of medieval agriculture” (Birrel, 113).  At the same time, she emphasizes that despite the immense skill and effort put into managing deer herds, medieval sources did not consider the management of deer equivalent to the raising of other livestock.  There are few records of deer in medieval agricultural treatises, although some estate records do describe the wardens’ duties regarding their care.  These included driving out predators and competing foragers, stocking the parks and forests with food, and even constructing covered shelters.  On some occasions the landscape itself was altered for the deer’s sake, fields were plowed for grass, and streams and pools were dug or modified.
Despite their deeply involved management and care, there are many ways in which deer are distinct from any other kind of managed livestock in the middle ages.  For example, there is no real conceptual distinction between the deer enclosed in deer parks (those that we can most appropriately call “farmed” deer), and the deer in the open forests.  It is true that fallow deer, introduced to England by the Norman conquerors, were more commonly found in deer parks than the native red and roe deer, but all three species were both farmed and managed in open forest in differing degrees.  Indeed, farmed herds were often supplemented by driving wild animals into the park, constructing “deer leaps” which allowed them to jump into the enclosed park but not out again, and by shipping individual deer between parks.  Thus, it seems that there are not distinctly “wild” and “domestic” deer.  There are just those that are enclosed and those that aren’t.
There was reluctance in medieval thought to characterize deer as livestock animals.  Why is this the case?  They were managed with similar methods, although not to the same degree, as other livestock.  Perhaps it is because there weren’t visible differences between the wild and farmed animals, like there may have been in other species.  In this regard, I think it would be interesting to look at medieval attitudes toward boars.  We haven’t read much about them, but from what I understand, there was generally a conceptual distinction between the wild boar, a beast to be hunted, and the domestic pig, a farmed livestock animal.  There were presumably distinguishing visible characteristics and behaviors by which to define the two types.  However, in his article on the impacts of the Normans on English hunting practices, N. J. Sykes says that evidence of wild boar is sparse in the archaeological record of post-conquest England, and that this may be because it is difficult to distinguish between the remains of wild and domestic pigs.  He goes as far as to say  “it must be assumed that… the wild boar recorded in many medieval documents, for example, as at the Christmas feast held by Henry III in 1251, were in fact domestic pigs” (Sykes, 166).
If wild pigs were so biologically similar to domestic pigs, why the conceptual distinction and different treatment?  Why were some farmed and others hunted, some killed on the chopping block and others chased and fought as noble adversaries?  Conversely, why weren’t deer killed on the chopping block?  Even when they weren’t being chased by nobles par force, deer were still taken by a regularly employed huntsman.
Birrell suggests that this reluctance to regard deer as tame animals, despite their pampered existence, was due to the social symbolism of the hunt: “in hunting literature, the beasts were, indeed had to be, wild animals for the brave and the skilled to seek out and hunt down” (Birrell, 114).  The idea of the noble conquering the wild beast fits well in the other two examples.  Perhaps it would have been unseemly for Henry III to admit that the centerpiece of his Christmas feast was nothing more than a farmed hog, as opposed to the nearly identical (but much more ferocious!) wild boar.  It is to Nicepheros’s benefit to characterize his donkeys as marvelous wild beasts, a gift of which “will be no small glory for Otto” (Liudprand, 261).  On the other hand, to imply that someone is hunting a domestic animal would be to insult his courage and prowess.  Liudprand relates how he was immediately dismissed after snidely commenting to the Byzantine emperor that he’d seen similar donkeys in Italian markets: “he gave me license to go, having sent me two wild goats” (Liudprand, 261).  To maintain the symbolism and social significance of the hunt, it was necessary to maintain the fiction that the hunted animals were truly wild beasts to be subdued by the noble lord.  In reality, they were anything but.



N.J. Sykes, “The Impact of the Normans on Hunting Practices in England,” in Food in Medieval England: Diet and Nutrition, eds. C.M. Woolgar, D. Serjeantson, and T. Waldron (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), pp. 162-75.

Jean Birrell, “Deer and Deer Farming in Medieval England,” The Agricultural History Review 40.2 (1992): 112-26.

Squatriti, Paolo. The Complete Works of Liudprand of Cremona. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2007.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Banal and Enchanting

Yesterday in discussion, we began and ended the class period asking the question: what is the hunt? What is its purpose? How is it depicted? What do we make of the metaphor of the hunt? We began the class by looking at the illustrations in Gaston Phoebus’ book, and ended considering the hunt’s depiction in literature. To further our discussion, I will discuss the metaphor of the hunt—how the hunt can be at once banal and enchanted and how this duality can highlight how important animals were in both high and lowbrow activity. The fact that the hunt, an activity that involved animals in all aspects, was depicted both in extreme, germane detail in Phoebus’ book and canonized as enchanting and transcendent in literature, as Thiebaux discusses, reinforces the integral role animals played in medieval society.
First, I will discuss the illustrations that accompany Phoebus’ book. In class, we talked about how detailed each species was depicted, how the artist shows the animals in context. And not only one animal—the whole range, young to old—and animals engaged in a variety of activities. The fox eats a goose, for example. What is striking to me is not only the myriad species the artist chooses to depict, but also the detail he goes into. This indicates that animals were not viewed in a monolithic way. There was not one iteration of a species of animal with a set behavior and characteristics. Animals were individual with distinct attributes. This indicates a nuanced view of animals. They were known. Their known status allowed animals to be integrated into the knowledge systems of hunters.
This detail mimics the detailed steps of the hunt itself. Thiebaux describes the ten steps of the hunt. This degree of detail indicates the knowable quality of the hunt itself. It was studied; it was quantified. This indicates the day-to-day aspects of this event. It was banal and involved many steps—quite a bit of waiting, of tracking the deer, of the limerer going off into the deer park to search, of the nobles waiting for the limerer to declare he’s found a warrantable hart. This necessitated a very close relationship with both the dogs and the deer. The huntsman must know how the deer live, and how the dogs detect them to do his job well. There was little glamor in this pursuit, however. The hunt can be seen in literature as a noble pursuit. This is because it is from the nobleman’s point of view. In actuality, the noblemen waited and drank and picnicked while the huntsmen searched for deer—benefiting from the work of others.
Now, I will discuss the depictions of the hunt in literature. Just as there is a banal side to the hunt, there is an enchanted side. The art form used to depict the hunt, poetry, is important in this case. Poetry pushes a person to focus on the current moment, on the glistening now. Day-to-day pursuits may be discussed in poems, but they are often teased apart to reveal the extraordinary in the banal. That is to say, not every detail is accounted for.
This enchanted quality mimics the extraordinary in the hunt. The extraordinary quality is revealed in literature, in what is written about the hunt. The activity of hunting could bring the hunter into a “transcendent universe,” it could “placed [the hunter] under enchantment”. Despite the fact that actual hunting is mostly waiting, it is depicted as a noble, high-class, form of art. There were myths that hunting made a person free of sin, or nobler, there were illusions to the hunt as a Journey. Thiebaux, in The Stag of Love, says that the verb malmene was used to describe the hunt—the same verb used to describe “martyrs, heroes and lovers driven to the extreme or suffering to death.”
This extreme that was used to describe the hunt was being used to describe nobles, benefiting from the limerer’s work, to kill a deer, an animal whose population was controlled and culled, in a deerpark, a curated bit of land made for their own enjoyment. The noble attained glory while the huntsmen did the work of pursuing and finding the deer. In fact, according to Thiebaux, lower officials did the skinning and butchering of the deer. The noble had no part in this bloody pursuit. After the hunt was over, he returned to the manor, having sweated out his bad humors in his day of picnic.  
            We see that the hunt was both quotidian and extraordinary. There is one element common to both the banal hunt and the enchanted hunt: animals. In the banal hunt, huntsmen had close relationships with their dogs. The dogs became an extension of the huntsmen themselves—there were specific pet names used to refer to the dogs, they were cared for in kennels, they were spoken to in a particular manner at different stages of the hunt. The working relationship between man and animal was strong. In the enchanted hunt, the stag was seen as iconographic. In both, the human animal relationship was a key part of making the hunt what it was. Without animals, the hunt could be neither banal nor quotidian. Without the animals, there is no hunt.

            And so I return to the question with which I began: what do we make of the metaphor of the hunt? I say that making the hunt into a metaphor does not contort its significance. It stretches what the hunt is through the means of language and literary illusion. This is because of the medium through which the hunt is being described: poetry. How could an activity, comprised mostly of waiting and tracking be translated into literature? It would be curated—not in a negative way, but simply because a poem in and of itself is curated. To discuss the metaphor, however, strikes me as an activity in skirting the point. I feel the fact that animals could be made banal and enchanting, boring and ennobling, shows their integral nature in medieval life.  


Additional Hunting in medieval Poetry

For anyone who's interested in hunting in literature vs. hunting in manuals, I would suggest "Gawain and the Green Knight". The Third Fit of the text, in which Gawain and his host are playing a game to give the other everything they received during the day, has the host going out and hunting three days in a row. It has a really clear depiction of the hunting process through the unmaking.

Then the cunning hunters coupled their hounds,
unclosed the kennel door and called them out,
blew briskly on their bugles three bare notes;
braches bayed therefore, and bold noise made,
and men chastised and turned those that chasing went,
a hundred of hunters, as I have heard tell,
                    of the best.
          To station, keepers strode,
          huntsmen leashes off-cast;
          great rumpus in that wood
          there rose with their good blasts.


At the first call of the quest quaked the wild;
deer drove for the dales, darting for dread,
hied to the high ground, but swiftly they were
stayed by the beaters, with their stout cries.
They let the harts with high branched heads have way,
the brave bucks also with their broad antlers;
for the noble lord had bidden that in close season
no man there should meddle with those male deer.
The hinds were held back with a ‘Hey’ and a ‘Ware!’
The does driven with great din to the deep coves.
There might men see, as they loosed, the slanting of arrows;
at each winding of the wood whistled a flight,
that bit into brown flanks, with broad blade-heads.
What screaming and bleeding, by banks they lay dying,
and ever the hounds in a rush hard on them followed,
hunters with high horn-calls hastened them after,
with such a crack and cry as cliffs were bursting.
What wild beasts so escaped the men shooting
were all dragged down and rent by the new reserves,
when hunted from high ground, and harried to water.
The lads were so skilled at the lower stations,
and the greyhounds so great, that gripped so quickly
and dragged them down, as swift I swear,
                    as sight.
          In bliss without alloy
          the lord does spur or alight,
          and passes that day with joy
          and so to the dark night.

The text goes on to describe the unmaking of the hinds, then repeats the next day with a boar, and the third with a fox. The detail is remarkable, and might be worth checking out


Monday, April 27, 2015

Two Hunting Poems from the Medieval "Fringes"

Below, I'd like to share two pieces of medieval hunting poetry that offer interesting comparisons and contrasts to some of the texts we have been discussing.

The first is among the oldest extant pieces of Welsh poetry. Generally known as Pais Dinogad (“Dinogad's Smock”) after the first two words, it survives as a peculiar fragment in Y Gododdin, a lengthy series of interrelated warrior elegies that may date back to the early 7th century. Though surviving manuscripts are somewhat more recent, there's reason to believe that the rhyme is quite ancient – the reference to slaves and to the Derwent waterfall, located in a region of Northern England where Welsh was once spoken, make sense in a 7th century context but not much later. Pais Dinogad is quite different from the rest of Y Gododdin – instead of heroic battle poetry, it appears to be a nursery rhyme. At some point, it became associated with the main text, whether through scribal negligence (an absent-minded monk had it stuck in his head, scrawled it in the margin, and subsequent copyists incorporated into the body of the poem) or scribal brilliance (it's been suggested that the use of the past tense in Pais Dinogad lends a certain elegiac quality to the rhyme.) This is Tony Conran's translation, which sacrifices only a little accuracy to achieve some of the original cadence (plus my rendering of the last three lines, which Conran seems to omit):

Dinogad's smock is pied, pied -
Made it out of marten hide.
Whit, whit, whistle along,
Eight slaves with you sing the song.

When your dad went to hunt,
Spear on his shoulder, cudgel in hand,
He called his quick dogs, 'Figg, you wretch,
Gaff, catch her, catch her, fetch, fetch!'

From a coracle he'd spear
Fish as a lion strikes a deer.
When your dad went to the crag
He brought down roebuck, boar and stag,
Speckled grouse from the mountain tall,
Fish from Derwent waterfall.

Whatever your dad aimed his spear at
Whether boar or fox or wild cat
Only the strong-winged could escape that!

Of course, the obvious interest for our class here is the sheer number and variety of animals – eleven different kinds named in seventeen lines. And they appear in a marvelous number of guises, as clothing material, hunting companions, prey, and literary devices (simile). While the focus is on hunting, we see both the result of this activity (the baby's soft, speckled smock), the joy of its enactment (compare the father's cheering of his hounds to Gaston Phoebus' formulas, some seven centuries later), and the proverbial manliness he acquires through his dominance over creatures of the land, air, and water. Hunting validates his status as a father/provider and as a rich property owner (with his eight slaves and fine hunting dogs). The lion simile is also fascinating, since it could only derive from either Biblical or Late Antique Latin sources. Pais Dinogad depicts a hunting tradition deeply enmeshed in its native terrain, a tradition with clear connections to the later medieval sources we have studied as well as notable divergences.

Skipping ahead some centuries and crossing a continent, the next excerpt is from the Shahnamah (Book of Kings), a vast epic poem that is one of the foundations of medieval Persian literature. It was composed by the poet Ferdowsi in the early 11th century AD, drawing on an enormous range of mythical and historical sources. The passage below is my translation from the story of Ardashir, a historical figure who founded Iran's last non-Islamic dynasty, the Sasanians, in the early 3rd century. As a young page at the court of King Ardavan (whom he will later overthrow), Ardashir is trained in the arts of riding, archery, and telling the truth – all three of which are united in a famous hunting scene.

It befell one day, in the hunting ground, the royal sons and retinue were scattered round.
At King Ardavan's side rode Ardashir, filling the king's heart with youthful cheer.
Ardavan had four princely sons, a noble lad each and every one.
On the horizon onagers appeared - the boisterous warband saw them and cheered.
Wind-hoofed steeds rushed to the chase, and sweat poured down each hero's face.
Bow drawn, Ardashir surged to the lead, nocked a sharp arrow and let it speed
Straight into a wild bull onager's flank, and up to the fletching the arrow shaft sank.
Quickly, Ardavan came upon the scene. When both the shot and the youth he had seen,
He saw the onager overthrown, did declare “Whoever did this, manly skill is his pair.”
Ardashir answered him, said, “It was I who struck the onager and let it die.”
No, it was me,” said the king's heir, “and its mate only got away by a hair.”
Ardashir answered him, said, “I see the plain is wide, onagers and arrows are plenty.
So take down another in this exact way, since lying is the greatest sin, they say.”
At this, Ardavan became hot with rage and shouted at his youthful page,
Told him, “In truth, this sin is mine - I tried to cultivate youth in manners fine.
Whether we're feasting or at the chase, why do you always seek to outpace
Everyone – even my own princely boys - with your haughty demeanor, harshness, and noise.
Go then to my Arab steeds, be their groom, and in that same place select your room.
There you can be commander of the stables, do whatever's asked of you, since you're so able.”
Ardashir went off, weeping full sore, down to the horse stables bound for sure.

(Onagers are wild equids native to Central Asia – here's a herd running in the desert:

“The hero's participation in the chase may elicit a sense of his identity; it may define and alter his life. Whether he sees the quarry slain or becomes himself a victim of the enterprise, it is the chase that confers meaning upon his actions,” Marcellet Thiébaux writes in The Stag of Love. The onager hunt is the first action Ardashir takes in the poem – it establishes him as an exceptionally (indeed, in an older Pahlavi account of the same event, an explicitly divinely) favored youth, one whose physical prowess is only matched by his dedication to justice. And yet the hunt is also a key reversal. Ardashir's excellence has an undisciplined rashness to it, an arrogance linking him to the wild creature he kills. Rather than being rewarded for his skill and honor, he is cast down, demoted from killing beasts to caring for them, charging on horses to scrubbing them. The hunt is both a theater for his prowess and a stage for his (admittedly temporary) downfall. His violent encounter with Nature becomes a fraught confrontation with his own nature.


Saturday, April 25, 2015

Falconry and Status

One thing we discussed in class is the difficulty of keeping and training falcons. Part of the allure of keeping falcons was their difficulty, not just in terms of the personal training required of the noble, but also the resources necessary to keep the birds. The noble would have to employ a falconer to catch and care for the birds. The birds would also have their own specially designed hack houses, which Frederick II found necessary for manning. It required special, rare equipment, and for the noble to spend a great deal of time focusing on training the falcon. Robin Oggins sees the expense of both personal effort and resources and determines that, as a visible manifestation of this effort, falconry represents an act of conspicuous consumption. While I agree with this evaluation, I would suggest that what made falconry so enticing to the nobility was its exclusivity, rather than its simple expense.

Frederick II begins his guide by extolling the virtues of falconry and falcons, comparing them to the les noble use of hunting implements and quadrupeds. As we discussed in class, this had to do with their ease of use or lack thereof. The Art of Falconry stated that being a great falconer required both practical knowledge and theoretical knowledge. His book teaches both extensively. As he describes it, gaining practical knowledge would take an extraordinary amount of leisure time. A commoner would probably not have time to gain this practical knowledge. The animals that commoners were familiar with, such as horses and dogs, are dismissed by Frederick II as being simple. “Any dabbler in venery can readily hold in leash or let loose dogs or other quadrupeds,” he writes. Exclusivity made practical falconry knowledge more difficult to learn than knowledge of other animals, which in turn made the training of falcons seem innately more difficult, and therefore worthy.

Interestingly, theoretical knowledge is the more accessible of the two kinds that Frederick II talks about. Frederick II explicitly rejects the texts of classical philosophers as sources of this kind of knowledge. Instead, he champions his own experience. Commoners would have been excluded from classical education, but not the kind of experimentation that Frederick II uses to become a greater falconer. Of course, Frederick II also had the ability to travel across the continent and employ experts to further his own theoretical knowledge. Furthermore, Frederick II’s theoretical knowledge includes lavish descriptions of the various species of falcons. In order to make these kinds of observations and to apply them to falconry, one must have access to these falcons, and commoners would have a hard time accomplishing this, as they would have to return any found hawks to their local sheriff. (Oggins, 48)

The idea that falconry represented a form of conspicuous consumption is complicated by the kinds of birds used. While Oggins notes that some sources suggested that nobles used eagles or buzzards in falconry, there’s no sign that Frederick II knew of them. Frederick II explicitly dismisses the idea of using eagles, describing them as “brought out as a novelty by men whose aim is to make a show of knowledge of falconry rather than to possess its reality.” These larger birds may have been seen as too ostentatious to make effective displays of “knowledge”, even though their obvious size would have made them more difficult to catch and maintain. If the impetus behind falconry was just due to its expense, eagles and buzzards would have made more effective displays. 

The Art of Falconry has a complex relationship with the idea of displaying falconry skill. Frederick II divides falconers into four classes, among them those who wish to win competitions and those who want the birds to fly impressively. Both of these classes have to do with performance, displaying mastery in particular ways. Frederick II believes that these are inferior falconers, but not because he sees them as vain, but rather because they tend to push their birds too aggressively, risking damage to them. He dismisses the practical falconer that uses falconry for sustenance the same way, seeing no difference between decorative and practical falconry. His ideal falconer pursues personal development for both the falconer and the falcon. In this sense, Frederick II believed that falconry was not useless, as Oggins suggests, but rather, as he puts it, an art.

Because of the challenges involved with keeping falcons, falconry must always have a relationship with status. However, the kinds of relationships between falconry and status may be different than the ones we found in medieval Europe or modern day Abu Dhabi. For instance, the Kazakhs in Mongolia train eagles for hunting. Young aspiring falconers first learn the required discipline to handle their eagles. These falconers are not wealthy, but there is a relationship with status. Anyone can learn to handle an eagle, but to be considered a falconer requires an initiation. Falconers are trained from a young age for about five years, and when their trainers (typically their parents) consider them ready, they are sent into the mountains to find an eagle nest. They take an egg and hatch it, raising the eaglet as their own. Doing this earns them a title. There are only 250-400 of these titled eagle hunters among the Kazakh tribes, but the knowledge of how to take care of eagles

Here, we see some critical differences between this form of falconry and its European counterpart. First, the lack of wealth removes some of the exclusivity inherent to the European model. The Kazakh doesn’t need a falconer to catch or care for his bird. There is only an exclusivity of action. Only those capable of doing what it takes to be a falconer can own eagles. For Frederick II, any noble can keep falcons. Their personal ability only determines whether they’re good falconers, not whether they can keep falcons at all. The form of their falconry knowledge is also somehow more easily spread. The Kazakhs don’t keep or need a The Art of Falconry to handle their giant eagles. Their oral traditions can sustain the practice, and the art is more accessible. “They say, that in the Kazakh tradition, there’s over a thousand ways of training and hunting using the eagle, and each family masters their own special technique.” (Svidensky) The Kazakhs also don’t permanently own their birds. It’s traditional for them to release their eagles once they’re mature to sustain the breeding population. Because the capture of birds is necessarily personal, ownership of falcons isn’t exclusive. It’s only the status that’s exclusive, but it’s less exclusive than in medieval Europe.

Oggins strongly supports the idea that falconry was a status symbol for medieval Europeans, but he leans on the idea that falconry was useless. Obviously, falconry was expensive and time-consuming, requiring great effort on the part of the noble. However, Frederick II believed that there was a practical purpose to keeping the birds. As we discussed in class, working with a falcon is an exercise in humility. It requires personal discipline and the ability to suborn one’s own desires below another’s. It’s possible that he believed that nobles had an innate quality that allowed them to do this (their greater access to time and resources certainly helped), and falconry allowed them to develop these talents. Furthermore, from the example of the Kazakhs, we can see that the practical use of raptors does not prevent a relationship to status. It’s perhaps difficult to place the label of “conspicuous consumption” to the Kazakh practice of eagle hunting, but there is something conspicuous about their use of titles and award. The difficulties of keeping falcons affirms status through its exclusive difficulty, rather than through it mere expense.

Frederick II, Art of Falconry
Oggins, Robin S. “Falonry and Medieval Social Status

Albert and Frederick: different ways of describing falcons

     It occurred to me to wonder what the difference was between the attitude toward falcons taken by Albert and that taken by Frederick. We know that Frederick improved significantly on Aristotle, but how might his work compare in certain ways to a contemporary like Albert? There are many different points of comparison that one could theoretically take--factual accuracy, for example; focus on description or prescription; amount of personal experience that went into the accounts; and so on. The one I decided to focus on the most was the description of birds in relation to their emotions, behavior, nobility, and so on.
     One feature which I found amusing and perhaps telling was Albert's continual use of the word "bold" to describe falcons. The gibbous falcon is bold, the black falcon is as bold as the peregrine, the white falcon is bold but less so than the black falcon, the blue-footed falcon is not very bold but can be emboldened with training, the merlin is very bold for its size, and so on. One cannot read Albert's description of a falcon without expecting to hear, sooner or later, just how bold she is. Albert does say other things about certain falcons and their characters--the saker likes to show off, while the mountain falcon is very angry much of the time--but on the whole, his descriptions of falcons' characters do seem to get a bit repetitive.
     The descriptions given by Frederick, on the other hand, are rather more varied. He does occasionally describe falcons and hawks as being bold, but he also discusses the courage of hawks and lanners and the impetuosity of falcons. More interestingly still, he describes what we might better call the emotions of birds of prey, in addition to their characters. Often they feel fear: newly caught falcons are terrified of humans; small hawks are frightened of an eagle; a non-seeled falcon may become frightened and unruly, which "engenders hatred and suspicion of all men."
     Frederick's descriptions of the birds' psychological vulnerabilities and foibles really seem to indicate just how close to them he really was. He mentions how young falcons can feel weak and unreliant or, before being thoroughly manned, may become "frantic and unmanageable" on seeing light, as well as how a falconer can calm his falcon by singing to her (isn't that just the coolest thing?) when she is alarmed.
     In like manner, so do his descriptions of the birds' pleasures. He mentions falcons' being able to hunt to their hearts' content (though I'm not sure how idiomatic the translation is here), how young falcons take pleasure in open country, how a bird that feels safe will have round pupils, how much a healthy falcon enjoys bathing, and how a slowly and methodically manned falcon comes to love her falconer.
     Something related even seems to appear in their relative treatment of the "nobility" of falcons. Albert is much more concerned with the hierarchy of nobility and ranking the falcons accordingly; he even mentions rules for how nobility is passed on in hybrids. Frederick, on the other hand, doesn't seem to have much to do with that system; his descriptions of the various genera of falcon tend more to such things as might be learned or verified by close observation, rather than philosophizing with incomplete data.
     I certainly don't mean to belittle Albert, whose writings are thorough and helpful in their own way. He details the feeding of and caring for falcons to an extent which does not look clearly inadequate even next to Frederick's passages on that subject. But it does seem like a less personal account, one written by someone who was not as personally invested in falconry as Frederick was.

--Luke Bretscher

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Animal Valuation

So far in our discussions we have wondered about the purpose of animals in the countryside and in towns. One debate was about whether the decisions made by demesne farmers or urban butchers were as economically driven as historians claim them to be. The rabbit and the carp, two animals that combine town and country in their use and purposes, give us insight into the economic minds of their human managers. Rabbit and carp’s economic values were clearly prioritized by medieval humans in ways sheep or dogs seem not to have been. Introduction of both species into England, in particular, stimulated a growth industry based in the countryside but became most influential in its destinations in English towns and even in other European countries.
            The first big difference between rabbits or carp and sheep, horses, or dogs is their origin. Neither rabbits nor carp are native to England, and their integration into the country assisted their valuation. Rabbits were introduced after the Norman Conquest, and they struggled to adapt to the cold and wet climate of England. Medieval rabbits preferred dry and sandy land ideal for burrowing, which was their only defense against predators. In England, the land was damp and the predators abounded, so the rabbit required special attention and cultivation.[1]
            The carp was introduced later in the fourteenth century and experienced a similar need for attention. Carp prefer shallow, warm, muddy waters with little to no natural current. To replicate this preference while building a sustainable fish population, medieval fish managers built extensive pond networks, ranging from tens to dozens of interconnected ponds that moved the carp from stage to stage.[2] These artificial ponds required active manipulation and attendance in order to create the ideal carp breeding and growth conditions while being sustainable year round. Being rare and finicky in their new habitats, rabbit and carp gained a luxurious value. Their presence revealed the owner’s own wealth in being able to afford the animals’s significant management systems, but most importantly, these animals were rare and valuable because of that.
            The inherent value of rabbit, in particular, became more obvious once commercial markets developed around the animal. Both animals stimulated new markets of trade and consumption that quickly led to their commercialization. In the wake of the Black Death, rabbits were ideally positioned to take advantage of the increased purchasing power of the population. After the 1370’s, commercial rabbit value grew due to a demand for meat, a change in fashion and taste, and the poor arable cultivation at the time. New market opportunities pushed rabbits into a profitable spotlight and increased their commercial value.[3]
Further evidence of the high valuation of rabbit and carp is the extended benefits of professionalization for their human managers. Because these animals were unstable in England, they required vigorous maintenance, which became professional care. Rabbit warreners were full-time employees on manors responsible for keeping the rabbits healthy and safe. Along with the rabbits, warreners were highly valued by their employers for their expertise and paid accordingly. They approached their work with a professional eye for improvement: most warreners bred their own ferrets, the best animals for trapping rabbits out of their burrows, and building artificial burrows called pillow mounds with the ideal design for the rabbits’s comfort.[4]
In the same way, carp raising stimulated the professionalization of a number of fish specialists. “Pond master” or “fish master” were the titles of professional managers on manorial pond systems who were high-ranking and salaried servants. These men, like the warreners, were responsible for the design, maintenance, and protection of the carp ponds.[5] Both professional positions of  animal caretakers indicate that the humans handlers were just as valuable as the animals themselves. Not only did the rabbit and carp have an inherent value, but also the warrener or the fish master were valuable for their role in the animal’s value. And this spread of professionalism was not limited to the people directly involved in the maturation of the animals, for other services gained specialization as a result of the growing rabbit and fish industries. Fishmongers, boat mean, skinners, and other specialist craft men became more prominent vocations with the rise of rabbit and fish markets.[6]
The opposite of this professional value was the growth of poaching around rabbit warrens and carp ponds. For rabbits, poaching increased at the same time rabbit culling experienced significant growth in the mid-fourteenth century.[7] Rabbits were easy to poach because of their tendency to leave the burrow at night, and most poaching incidence seemed to be one-off offenses. However, there was another class of poachers who clearly planned their operations by investing in good nets, trained ferrets and dogs, and a collective gang of poachers.[8] Poaching had become just as serious and lucrative as being a professional warrener. In fact, poaching activity resembled the steady professionalization occurring around rabbits in the way poachers were collecting resources and knowledge and their operations were efficiently planned and ruthlessly acted.[9]
Carp poaching, on the other hand, was focused on the social value of the fish as it represented nobility. The effects of pond expansion and aquaculture meant the flooding of arable peasant land, and this caused tension between commercial fish raising by manor lords and the smaller domestic practices of peasants who would fish for food. [10] Such tensions led to peasant resistance in the form of stealing fish directly from the ponds.[11] Hoffman claims that these acts of poaching were not for the right to own ponds or fish, but rather a symbolic gesture of stealing the prestige of nobles.
The rabbit and the carp were physical embodiments of prestigious social value and commercial monetary value. The same kind of valuation study could be applied to sheep or other work animals, but there is something distinct about the growth of rabbits and carp. The most fundamental would be the foreign nature of rabbit and carp which made them unique, rare, and expensive to acquire; however, both animals have lost their distinction and value since their populations proliferated in England from the middle ages.

[1] Bailey 5
[2] Hoffman, “Carps, Cods, Connections,” 8
[3] Bailey 12
[4] Bailey 8
[5] Hoffman, “Carp, Cods, Connections,” 15
[6] Bailey16
[7] Bailey 16
[8] Bailey 17
[9] Bailey 18
[10] Hoffman, “Carp, Cods, Connections,” 17
[11] Hoffman, “Carp, Cods, Connections,” 18