Hortulus Journal 11.2 (Spring 2015)
In 1087, a joint Pisan-Genoese army sailed to the city of Mahdia, the capital of the Zirid dynasty in North Africa, and pillaged it. This triumphant victory of Christian armies over Muslim foes is extolled at length in the Carmen in Victoriam Pisanorum, an anonymous poem composed in Pisa soon after the expedition. Although historians have long used this poem as a way of contextualizing crusading rhetoric in the years leading up to the First Crusade, I contend that the Carmen is useful beyond such endeavors. Specifically, the Carmen provides a powerful lens through which to view Pisan identity in the eleventh century. In a time when Pisa was beginning to develop peaceful commercial relationships with Christian and Muslim powers in the Mediterranean, the Carmen instead creates a narrative of Pisan history centered on holy war. The anonymous author of the Carmen is disdainful of Islam, equating Muslims with a series of Old Testament villains and presenting Islam as a heresy that threatens Christianity. Conversely, the Pisan armies that sacked Mahdia are presented as heroes both in the context of Roman and Old Testament history. As Pisa was beginning to assert commercial power in the Mediterranean, we thus are confronted with a picture of Pisan identity that embraces the role of both merchant and holy warrior.
The barnacle and the barnacle goose, both already active objects of the medieval imagination, have been debated by scholars such as Rhona Beare, Karl Steel, and Edward Heron-Allen. However, the driving force of these discussions has been the mythology and history of the barnacle goose. This paper explores the discursivity of the barnacle in the travelogue text Topographia Hibernica of Gerald of Wales within the framework of Bruno Latour’s Actor Network Theory. Gerald revisits the topic with numerous human and social associations such as applications of St. Augustine of Hippo’s categories of ‘wonder’, ongoing considerations of ecclesiastical reform, and a glimpse into the practice of medieval scientific deduction. This paper argues that each of these associative branches collide, allowing a natural feature to instruct a cultural moment within the context of Norman invasion that is ultimately revealing of Gerald’s world, as well as of his perspective within it. The echoes of this passage further branch out over the subsequent decades and centuries in the variations of the manuscript copies and translations. The social construction is itself a relative data point reached through the multitude of associations that start at the barnacle. The expansiveness of reactions and interpretations of the passage reveal as much about these subsequent periods and peoples as it does about its natural subject matter and it is therein, by the twists of these associations, that the natural world exposes the human world. In conclusion, by recontextualizing the ongoing discussion of Gerald’s barnacle passage, this paper evaluates the ways in which human associations tie together to form a relative historical moment grounded in a feature of the natural Irish environment.