In my paper I am taking the perspective of natural philosophy in order to tackle the problem of the way in which local conditions – geographical, biological, or astrological – influence the general constitution of human nature. Climate zones and climate conditions seem to have direct impact not only on the corporeal constitution of the inhabitants, but also on their moral and intellectual capacities. What are the material conditions that bring the diversity between peoples and individuals into being? How comes the universality of human nature is modified and diversified? Along with Albert’s commentary on the Aristotelian corpus of texts ‘De animalibus’ I will focus on Albert’s interaction with the pseudo-Aristotelian treatises De natura loci and De causis proprietatum elementorum.
Among the numerous vernacular translations of the apocryphal Vita Adae et Evae, the Wheatly Manuscript’s prose Life of Adam and Eve presents humanity not as the unchallenged rulers of the natural world, but as part of the nature that relies on its benevolence as much as that of the God. The work depicts Adam, the first human, as not just a creation of God but of the natural world: his characteristics, both good and bad, come from the different elements of the nature that made him. Their life after the Fall brings them even closer to the natural world and more dependent on nature: their post-lapsarian humanity is characterized by elements from nature and by their shared food with animals. The human act of penance is complete only when the humans immerse themselves in nature and recruit other animals. Adam and Eve’s humanity is defined not by their difference and superiority to the natural world, but by their reliance on it: the border between humans and nature is fluid. Such depiction of humans and nature challenges the idea of human superiority in medieval thoughts, challenging in turn the modern readers to rethink the historical human-nature relations in Western culture.
The images of the 10,000 Martyrs during the 14th century along the Rhine, in their display of half-naked men impaled by sharp branches, reveal multiple perspectives of borders and fluidity: the wounds mark the boundaries of the body, yet eliminate them while they merge the flesh with the wood; the martyrs’ depiction in their liminal dying state, suspend them between life and death; the repetitive composition implies the image to be a random framed fragment in an infinite continuity. In my presentation, I will attempt to unearth these aspects while focusing on the dynamics between the martyrs’ bodies and the wood presented in the images. To this end, I will investigate cultural and periodical perceptions regarding wood as a living material possessing corporeal features, as well as contemporary symbolism of trees. The discussion will also include theological approaches to pain and salvation, mysticism, soma-aesthetics and reception theory. Finally, I will demonstrate how, in the occurrences of mass death resulting from epidemics and religious struggles, the fluid boundary between the body and wood in the images at hand may suggest hope for salvation to the pious viewer.