In the Middle English poem Pearl and the widely translated Vision of Tnugdal, readers confront the afterlife through the journeys of a jeweler and an Irish knight. These two poems allow us to see the practical and theological concerns of the afterlife – where do people live, what do they do in the afterlife, and how do people arrive at the afterlife. But one of the more interesting aspects of Tnugdal is the physicality of eating – people are gnawed upon, ripped apart, and digested to rid them of their sins. But it is also a poem that focuses on the pleasures of heaven. This paper will explore how the intense interest on eating promotes specific theological concerns versus the absence of such discussion in Pearl.
A 15th-century Middle English devotional compilation (London, British Library, MS Additional 37049) conveys a rather interesting peace of poetry to us: ‘A disputacion betwyx þe body and wormes’, which is illustrated by pen drawings of a female corpse arguing with worms that want to feed on her. Some folios earlier, we find that noble lady in a tomb, while below her skeleton is devoured by worms and insects, too. Departing from the texts and illuminations of this manuscript, the paper aims to show how and to what end the decaying but still interacting corpse was contemplated – and how being eaten and digested was understood as part of the tortures of hell.
The late 14th- or early 15th-century Awntyrs off Arthure at the Terne Wathelyne includes the grisly appearance of Guinevere’s dead mother in a warning from hell about the punishments that await, including the terrifying detail that she is being eaten by toads and encircled by serpents. This paper will examine the resonances of this depiction and other similar references to the punishments of hell in the later Middle English romances and the possibility that they are symptomatic of changes in the depiction of women, particularly magical women, and a further development of the link between women and sin.