Selected Papers from the XV Oxford University Byzantine Society International Graduate Conference
Edited By Maximilian Lau, Caterina Franchi and Morgan Di Rodi
Literary Animals in a Human Landscape
Within studies of Western medieval literature it has long been accepted that non-humans of any significance to a story are most likely to be encountered on the edges of society. In the physical sense this can be in mountain passes, mystical islands or, most notably, in forests. This connection has a certain degree of realism to it. Medieval forests and mountains did contain fierce animals, such as wolves or wild boar, and the danger of what you might encounter added to the perceived danger of being outside the social control of an inhabited place. A similar fear is present in late Byzantine literature. Although less overt than the use of woodland in Western romances, the wild landscape is still concomitant with the more feral and violent aspects of society. In the case of animals, they regularly play a role as a common background feature in Byzantine texts, as they do the world over. Byzantine hagiography, for example, regularly features domestic animals on estates or in villages, both as a normal part of daily life and also as an indication of wealth. Animals do not solely appear in the background though. They also play a significant role as supporting characters. Thus, in Byzantine texts, saints who entered the desert, a space clearly outside normal social boundaries, encountered lions and other animals there. These animals are frequently involved in demonstrations of a saint’s sanctity, a miraculous topos. Fierce lions share their caves with saints, or become tame and scared in...
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