Authority and discourse in the liber monstrorum

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Abstract

The Liber monstrorum, a late seventh-or early eighth-century Anglo-Latin catalog of marvelous creatures, uses an ostensible discourse from an author to his superior about the believability of monsters in order to contain anxiety about England's contemporary social and ecclesiastical situation. The author generally discounts the work of pagan poets or philosophers unless confirmed by Christian sources. Since the LM author cannot always verify the status of the monsters depicted, he leaves the decision about their existence to the reader. The possibility of disagreement among readers problematizes the perception of a broad, dismissive ecclesiastical view of marvels. However, that the LM permits individual opinions on the subject of monsters does not imply an assertion of freedom from authority, but rather that the author allows freedom within an authoritatively-defined discourse. The narrator's discourse with a presumable social superior subtly suggests that if the marvelous narrative from which the description of the monster is derived is not a miraculous sign from an infallible God, it must be seen as part of a fallible dialogue between humans, and any possible error must be contained by an appropriate interpretative authority.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)473-493
Number of pages21
JournalNeophilologus
Volume89
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 1 2005

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