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Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/32950

Title: Corporeal Configurations of the Heroic and the Monstrous: A Comparative Study of 'Beowulf', 'The Shahnameh' and 'Tristan'
Authors: Saeedi Tabatabai, Pouneh
Advisor: Ross, Jill
Department: Comparative Literature
Keywords: Heroic Literature
Medieval Literature
Monster Studies
Issue Date: 5-Sep-2012
Abstract: This dissertation explores various characteristics that define the monstrous and the heroic — both on their own and in conjunction with each other — in three representative texts of the Middle Ages, the Old English 'Beowulf' (manuscript c.1000), the Persian epic, 'The Shahnameh' (c.1010) and Gottfried von Strassburg’s Middle-High German poem, 'Tristan' (c.1210), as it delves into the cataclysmic aftermath of their corporeal confrontation. At the core of this study of three linguistically and geographically different, yet thematically contiguous texts, lies the significance of corporeality in terms of its articulation of the heroic self and identification of the monstrous other. Far from being diametrically opposed, the heroic and monstrous bodies bear enough resemblance to justify René Girard’s use of the phrase ‘monstrous doubles’ in reference to the host of similarities they manifest in the course of their confrontations. However, as shall be demonstrated, heroic and monstrous bodies need not be engaged in a single battle to manifest signs of similitude. Particular properties, such as ‘gigantism’, could be read as tokens of heroism and monstrosity, depending on the context. In 'Beowulf', for example, both Beowulf and Grendel stand out on account of their massive bulk, yet the former is marked as heroic; the latter, as monstrous. Significantly, the hero’s monstrosity not only endows him with an advantage over his fellow-humans, but also facilitates his mastery of monstrous bodies. The conquest of monstrous bodies overlaps with other paradigms of power including mastery over land and women. Gigantomachia and dragon-slaying tend to be coterminous with territorial claims. It is no coincidence that colonized lands are marked by their so-called ‘monstrous’ inhabitants, for as such, their conquest is rendered as both an act of heroism and a means of purification. Indeed, the purging of lands is a primordial priority of the heroic mission. Paradoxically, however, the hero has to be stained by elements of monstrosity in the first place to succeed at monstrous confrontations and goes on to acquire even more monstrous characteristics in a process which leads to ‘sublation’, the incorporation of a concept by a subsequent one in a way that leads to the formation of a new concept manifesting features of both. A third zone of possibilities comes to the fore in the midst of the entanglement of heroic and monstrous bodies. The clash between the heroic and the monstrous bodies could be read as a fusion, a marriage, which gives birth to a third party, in this case, a ‘Third Space’, a zone of discursivity and hybridity arising from the confrontation of an ‘I’ and a ‘Thou’. Significantly, the ‘Third Space’, in being unstable and fluid, is both susceptible to and a harbinger of change. In light of the fluidity of this space, the dismemberment and incorporation of bodies marking monstrous encounters take on added significance. One of the primary consequences of monstrous conflicts is ‘incorporation’, a freighted term, as shall be argued in the final chapter. While ‘incorporation’ can take place at a simple corporeal level, including the acts of cannibalism interspersed in 'Beowulf' and 'The Shahnameh', it can also constitute a mental challenge, a fusion of two different horizons of understanding. After all, in being both 'mixta' and 'mira', monsters not only serve as obstacles to the heroic body, but also to the intellectual mind. Although reflective of the mutability of times and the incertitude of man’s life during what has come to be known as the monstrous Middle Ages, monsters continue to charm us with their composite and enigmatic essence up to this day.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/32950
Appears in Collections:Doctoral

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