IMC 2020: Sessions

Session 1056: Modes of Categorising People and Birds

Wednesday 8 July 2020, 09.00-10.30

Moderator/Chair:Edward Powell, Independent Scholar, Cambridge
Paper 1056-aMiddle Irish Instructions on Identifying Fools
(Language: English)
Anna Matheson, Centre de recherche bretonne et celtique (CRBC), Université Rennes 2
Index terms: Language and Literature - Celtic, Law, Medicine
Paper 1056-bThe Wise Man or the Fool: Unstable Representations of Spectacles and Sight-Loss
(Language: English)
Rachael Gillibrand, Institute for Medieval Studies, University of Leeds
Index terms: Art History - General, Daily Life, Technology
Paper 1056-cThe Borders and Branches of Birds: Avian Folk Taxonomies in Old Norse
(Language: English)
Kathryn Ania Haley-Halinski, Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse & Celtic, University of Cambridge
Index terms: Anthropology, Language and Literature - Scandinavian, Mentalities, Science

Paper -a:
This paper will focus on a remarkable yet little-known legal commentary that is found in 16th-century Trinity College Dublin MS 1336/1 and that explains how to recognise whether someone is of unsound mind. I will offer a translation of the commentary and a discussion of its date. By identifying the sources (both native and non-native) from which some of the citations were drawn, I will show how this text reflects the state of medical learning in 15th- and 16th-century Irish legal centres.

Paper -b:
Throughout the Middle Ages, the main beneficiaries of spectacles were learned men, such as scholars and ecclesiastics. As a result, spectacles came to represent learnedness within contemporary imagery. However, once this relationship between spectacles and learnedness had been established, it was possible for later artists to subvert the trope – representing those who purchased and used spectacles as foolish. As such, spectacles came to act as a contradictory signifier of both foolishness and learnedness within later medieval popular culture. Through a discussion of several visual representations of spectacles, this paper will consider how and why spectacles came to be such an ‘unstable’ visual signifier in the later Middle Ages, as well as thinking about how popular representations of spectacles influenced their use and interpretation in day-to-day life.

Paper -c:
While scholars have extensively discussed the mythological birds in the Old Norse textual corpus, little has been said about the birds listed in the anonymous text Fugla heiti. What work there is has focused on identifying the species behind each name, ignoring wider questions of what defines the Norse category ‘fugl’ [bird]. This presentation will address this issue through a folk taxonomic approach, investigating how categories and interrelations were used to understand the world. By analysing the bird names in Fugla heiti, this paper will explore Norse conceptual systems of ‘birdhood’ and address broader methodological questions regarding medieval folk biology.