IMC 2006: Sessions

Session 627: The Human Body in Medieval Culture

Tuesday 11 July 2006, 11.15-12.45

Moderator/Chair:Caroline Proctor, Centre for the History of Medicine, University of Warwick
Paper 627-aHealing the Social Body: Medical and Judicial Justification for Public Executions in 13th- and Early 14th-Century England
(Language: English)
Danielle Marianne Westerhof, Centre for Medieval Studies, University of York
Index terms: Manuscripts and Palaeography, Medicine, Mentalities
Paper 627-bFear of Disease in Medieval Scotland
(Language: English)
Karen Jillings, School of History, Philosophy & Politics, Massey University, New Zealand
Index terms: Medicine, Social History
Paper 627-cEmbodied Bynames, Somatic Selves
(Language: English)
Dave Postles, Centre for English Local History, University of Leicester

Abstract paper -a: In this paper I will consider the crime of treason and its punishment from the perspective of the ‘body politic’ metaphor. I will argue that treason concerned the whole of society, not just the monarch. Political philosophers such as John of Salisbury stated that the right punishment for treason was the amputation of corrupted limbs from the body politic, echoing common surgical practice in the treatment of gangrenous body parts. The justification for the punishment of treason by public death in chronicles as well as judicial documents from late 13th- and early 14th-century England seems to suggest that the idea of amputation was what people had in mind when they condemned traitors to be drawn, hanged, beheaded, eviscerated, and quartered.

Abstract paper -b: Disease – both epidemic and endemic – affected every aspect of life in the Middle Ages, and elicited a variety of emotions ranging form panic to revulsion. Such responses stemmed from the over-riding emotion of fear. Each of these emotions was evidenced by contemporaries in Scotland as elsewhere, both directly (such as in poetry) and indirectly (such as in governmental measures for dealing with sufferers). This paper will examine the ways in which medieval Scots at every level, from the burgh council of Edinburgh, to the poet Robert Henryson, reacted to disease.

Abstract paper -c: Although medieval people inhabited a somatic society, the perception was not of the body as culturally constructed but as phenomenological and lived or, philosophically, as metaphor. Perhaps inevitably, our contemporary understanding of the body not merely as a social metaphor but as a contested site of inscription and boundaries, has been considered largely from certain types of source – that is, those which contribute to the establishment and perpetuation of (perhaps competing and contested) discourses. Understanding the lived experience of the body is more difficult to assess. Whilst literary texts such as the genre of the fabliaux reflected social practice and contributed to common knowledge, intertextuality in composition – in appropriating and re-using motifs from other texts – removes this source from the realms of direct experience. A phenomenological approach remains usually only possible through what might be considered extraordinary events, such as punishment, miracles, and self-denial.

Another potential source before the early fourteenth century is nevertheless presented by nickname bynames, which not only described but also imputed characteristics of the body. To some extent, those bynames not only relate to the individual, but also reveal attitudes towards the body in general, indicating marked features, concentration on upper and lower parts of the body, inscriptions on the body, the gendered body, the sexual body and, in a more ambiguous manner, categories of the body (that is, age, infirmity, deformity etc). The importance of nickname bynames in this particular context is that they are a direct reflection of bodily practice and not just a representation of either the idealised or the conventional body.