In the Middle Ages, ubiquitous and evil animals – Liberation

The Italian medievalist Chiara Frugoni analyzes the complex links that men and women have with animals.

In the Middle Ages, much more than today, animals were everywhere. In homes, city streets, forests but also in the imagination of contemporaries, there are so many fantastic creatures to which the Bible refers. Chiara Frugoni, a great Italian medievalist, mobilizes many medieval texts but also an abundant iconography – frescoes, illuminated manuscripts, fabrics… – to analyze the complex links that men and women have with animals.

To the gratitude for the multiple services they render in a society where animal energy holds a central place is added another feeling: fear. It is explained not only by the difficulty of defending oneself against bears or wolves with ineffective weapons, but also by the widely shared belief in the very real existence of fantastic animals, sometimes the incarnation of the devil or demons. Faced with this ambivalence, did men and women of the Middle Ages have an affection for animals, wonders Chiara Frugoni? She concludes in the negative because the “anthropocentric design” dominant prevented “understand in general the needs and sufferings of animals”.

Chiara Frugoni, Living with animals in the Middle Ages. Fantastic and fierce storiesLes Belles Lettres, 451 pp., €25.50.

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