Reading the Body: Dismemberment of Saints and Monsters in Medieval Literature

2020-07-27T18:23:30Z (GMT) by Aidan M Holtan

While the body in medieval literature can be compared to a text, the nature of this text varies depending on the classification of the body in question. For a monster, the body is static: it indicates victory, marks borders, and is not engaged with beyond the initial dismemberment and display. Conversely, the saintly body is a dynamic body, constantly called upon to continue acting on behalf of the community in the form of miracles. The saintly body is a body in flux—changing and accruing narratives to itself over time. Despite these differences, however, the body itself exists on a spectrum, ranging from human to non-human, and from monstrous to beatific. I therefore further argue that it is the relationship of the deceased individual and the community that determines how a body is treated and understood after death, even if the postmortem body in question bears signs that could easily be interpreted as either monstrous or saintly. This reception, in turn, is reflected in the body’s role within the community.