How do the themes of pollution and purity shape spectacles of animal violence in late Roman art? This moment in the city’s history seems particularly fruitful for delving into the topic because with the ascent of Christianity one encounters the first substantial group of Romans critical of the amphitheatre’s grisly displays. Representations of animal violence appear in both ivory consular diptychs and a series of contemporary commentators. Other have noted the conjoinment of gladiator and the early Christian martyr, for the gladiator’s self-abnegation was, after all, a sacralized act. It is in this period of the decline of gladiatorial combat and venationes that we can perhaps best view in the diptychs some of the underlying dynamics inherent in these entertainments.
St Serf is a 7th-century saint whose legend is recounted in a 13th-century manuscript held in Dublin. It includes a fascinating account of Serf’s journey from Rome to Scotland; this paper will focus on his sojourn in the ‘Black Valley’, apparently a place in the Alps, and particularly the battle between demonic creatures and Serf and his followers. The aggressors are described as dragons and other monsters, including ‘gnats having horny beaks’, a phrase which arguably has overtones of Pictish sculptural motifs. This raises questions about the geographical location of otherness: why did an Alpine adventure contain apparently Pictish beasts? Were the tale-tellers unable to conceive of other kinds of monsters in other places, or did their audience need meaningful ‘local’ monsters to allow the correct lessons to be drawn?
This paper will examine highly charged encounters between humans and animals in the satirical sotties, in both contextual and rhetorical terms. Cruelty and violence feature widely in these unpredictable plays which often provide a voice for the persecuted voiceless and debunk ennobling myths of power to reveal an altogether more brutal force majeure. Louis XI’s love of the hunt and hunting dogs is seized upon to cry scandal at the violence of his Œtyrannical regime in which the hapless third estate is the quarry. Hunting protocols, heraldry and horned beasts are held up to a festive ridicule which is nevertheless keenly aware that dismemberment, locking horns and suffering are seemingly never far away.