Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Freaks & Monsters Bleg

I've got to order books for the Studies in Medieval Literature: Freaks and Monsters class I'm teaching in the Spring. The extremely-tentative reading list thus far:

  • Ovid's Metamorphoses (I know this is classical -- for background)
  • OE Physiologus
    Lais of Marie de France
  • The History and Topography of Ireland
  • The Travels of Sir John Mandeville
  • Dante's Inferno
  • The Decameron
  • The Saga of the Volsungs
  • The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki

I'm avoiding Chaucer and Arthurian stuff, because those are covered in other undergrad courses. I'm also avoiding Beowulf & SGGK, because I'm sick of them myself. I might assign "The Monsters and the Critics" anyway, though, under the assumption the students have all read Beowulf before.

Any last minute advice from those who've taught medieval monsters before?* Is there a really, really obvious text I'm blanking on?

*Er, taught about medieval monsters. Unless you've been tenured for so long that your first students were actual medieval monsters.


  1. For the Anglo-Saxon period there's Liber Monstrorum and Wonders of the East, both translated in Andy Orchard's Pride and Prodigies.

    There's also the stuff in the Eddas, in a convenient and fairly cheap Penguin, including Ragnarsdrapa.

    There's some interesting "monsters" and oddities in St. Brendan's Voyage.

    St. Christopher the Canocephalus

    Adding to the saga list is Grettir's Saga, though you probably talk about that in relation to Beowulf

    I had thought of Mac Datho's pig, but though Ailbe the wondrous hound is mentioned and the pig is large, the story isn't really about the beasties.

    Well, that's a couple off the top of my head. I can think of a few others but they're Arthurian.

  2. Guillaume de Palerne/The Romance of William of Palerne, or, William and the Werwolf?

  3. Go crazy and do some Irish literature? There's the fomoire, or Balor, both in the beautifully translated and free for the down load edition by Elizabeth Gray, of Cath Maige Tuired/The Second Battle of Moytura (, or possibly Mélusine?

  4. Scott, Isidore of Seville discusses monsters in a section of De Etymologiae called "De Portentis," which is available online in Latin. Looks like it's around 1,500 words or so and packed with references to other critters found in your reading list.

    You might also want to take a peek at later (possibly post-medieval?) legends in which Guy of Warwick faces off against the Dun Cow. It's not every day one encounters a rampaging, monstrous cow.

  5. Hi Richard,

    What about Sir Gowther? Nasty, brutish, and short -- what could be more educational?