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ELCSG004 - Metamorphosis: The Limits of the Human

Value: 30 credits
Tutor: Dr Jane Gilbert
Teaching structure:
5,000 word essay
Module Description:

Metamorphosis, or the self’s radical transformation, is the subject of one of Ovid’s most famous poems, of numerous folk tales (werewolves, especially), and thus of the many medieval works that combine classical antique influences with folklore. People turning into animals or trees and vice versa figure the relations between colonisers and colonised, ‘civilised’ and ‘savage’, in Europe’s marginal areas. They may also stand for the terrible deformations that sin performs on the sinner; or for passion’s devastating or transcendental effects on the lover. Metamorphosis tests and defines the boundaries of the Western human ‘self’ as subject and as object.

In this module we shall look at some medieval instances of metamorphosis in narrative and lyric from a range of European languages, countries and traditions. The module will include four segments, each providing a different perspective on metamorphosis: translation, translatio and metaphor; devilry; canines, kings and conquests; transforming love.

Preparatory Reading and Set Texts:

Primary Texts and translations:

  • Ovid, Metamorphoses (classical Latin) (extracts) Original classical Latin, ed. F. J. Miller, 3rd edn, 2 vols (Cambridge, MA, 1989) (with academic English translation) We shall be using three translated texts: Metamorphoses, trans. Rolfe Humphries (Bloomington, various editions), Tales from Ovid: Twenty-Four Passages from the ‘Metamorphoses’, trans. Ted Hughes (London, 2002), After Ovid: New Metamorphoses (London, 1994), ed. Michael Hofmann and James Lasdun
  • Boccaccio, Decameron, day 4, story 2; day 9, story 10 Original Italian and English translation at Decameron Web,
  • Dante, Inferno, XXIV-XXV Original Italian and English translation: Dante, The Divine Comedy, I: Inferno, ed. and trans. Robin Kirkpatrick (London, 2006)
  • Gerald of Wales (Giraldus Cambrensis, Girart de Barri), from Topographia Hibernica ‘Of the prodigies of our times, and first of a wolf which conversed with a priest’ (Distinction 2, Chapter XIX) Original medieval Latin can be downloaded free from Gallica, (pp. 101-107 of book, pages 212/572-218/572 of download) English translation: The Topography of Ireland, trans. Thomas Forester (Ontario, 2000) (pages 44/97-47/97)
  • A dossier of further medieval Latin material in English translation will be provided.
  • Marie de France, ‘Bisclavret’, ‘Yonec’ Original Anglo-Norman in Lais, ed. Alexandre Micha (Paris, 1998) English translation by Judith P. Shoaf,
  • Arthur and Gorlagon. Original Cymro-Latin, ‘Arthur and Gorlagon’, ed. by George Lyman Kittredge, Studies and Notes in Philology and Literature, 8 (1903), pp. 149-275 English trans: Arthur and Gorlagon, trans. F. A. Milne, Folklore, 15 (1904), 40-67.
  • Petrarch, Canzoniere. Original Italian and English translation in: Petrarch’s Lyric Poems: The ‘Rime sparse’ and Other Lyrics, ed. and trans. Robert M. Durling (Cambridge, MA, 1976). (This edition is for consultation in libraries rather than for purchase)
  • Sir Gowther. Original Middle English, in The Middle English Breton Lays, ed. Anne Laskaya and Eve Salisbury (Kalamazoo, 1995) English translation:
  • Le Lai de Narcisse. Original Old French and English translation in Narcisus et Dané, ed. and trans. Penny Eley (Liverpool, 2002) (translation is superior to that in Cormier, below)
  • A dossier of troubadour (medieval Occitan) and Minnesinger (Middle High German) lyrics will be provided.
  • Chrétien de Troyes (Ovide moralisé), Philomène (Old French) Original Old French and English translation in Three Ovidian Tales of Love, ed. and trans. Raymond Cormier (New York, 1986)
  • Gower, John, Confessio Amantis book V, ll. 5551­-6074 (the tale of Tereus, Procne and Philomena) Original Middle English (and modern English gloss): ed. Russell A. Peck (Kalamazoo, 2004), vol. 3,

Initial Secondary Bibliography:

  • Bloch, R. Howard, ‘Medieval Misogyny’, in Misogyny, Misandry, Misanthropy, ed. R. Howard Bloch and Frances Ferguson (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), pp. 1-24
  • Bynum, Caroline Walker, Metamorphosis and Identity (New York, 2001)
  • Derrida, Jacques, The Animal That Therefore I Am, trans. David Wills (Fordham, 2008)
  • Goldin, Frederick, The Mirror of Narcissus in the Courtly Love Lyric (Ithaca, NY, 1967)
  • Keith, Alison, and Stephen Rupp (eds.), Metamorphosis: The Changing Face of Ovid in Medieval and Early Modern Europe (Toronto, 2007)
  • Otten, Charlotte F., ed., A Lycanthropy Reader: Werewolves in Western Culture (Syracuse, NY, 1986)
  • Salisbury, Joyce E., The Beast Within: Animals in the Middle Ages (New York, 1994)
  • Sconduto, Leslie A., Metamorphoses of the Werewolf: A Literary Study from Antiquity through the Renaissance (Jefferson, 2008)
  • Warner, Marina, Fantastic Metamorphoses, Other Worlds: Ways of Telling the Self (Oxford, 2002)
  • You may also wish to dip into two journals’ special issues on animal studies: PMLA, 124:2 (March, 2009) (not so much the ‘Victorian Cluster’!) Postmedieval, 2:1 (Spring, 2011)