Welcome to the ninth volume of Hortulus and our special themed issue, Wounds, Torture, and the Grotesque. This issue is the second one we have made available as an e-book, so check it out and let us know what you think.
Last year Hortulus readers voted for the theme of wounds, torture and the grotesque. Although ideas of the grotesque have been associated with medieval studies for years, recent scholarship encourages rethinking these concepts in relation to race, gender, medicine, and changing ways of conceptualizing the body. The three articles in this issue expand our ideas of what wounds and the grotesque accomplish in three strikingly different sources, including a Japanese vernacular tale, an English epic, and a story from an English sermon. All three authors argue, however, that the ambiguity of wounds and the grotesque enable the sources’ key purposes.
In “Rhetorics of Subversion in Medieval Japanese Popular Prose: Grotesque, Carnivalesque, and Ambivalent Laughter in Morokado monogatari,” Raechel Dumas examines a warrior tale produced in late medieval Japan which has usually been understood as frivolous popular prose. She argues that Morokado monogatari deploys the grotesque to articulate “unofficial” perspectives that both legitimized and undermined standard literary, social, and religious discourses. The ambivalent nature of the grotesque in this work is essential to the work’s participation in and subversion of pre-modern Japanese literary genres.
Ambivalence is also key to Erin Wagner’s explanation of monstrosity in Beowulf. In “Keeping it in the Family: Beowulf and the Tradition of Familicide in the Kin of Cain,” she expands on the comparison of Grendel to Cain, arguing that Beowulf must also be seen as taking on signs of Cain. The acknowledgment of this relationship to Grendel allows Beowulf to kill the monster, but makes the hero monstrous himself.
Kathryn Loveridge takes on monstrous transformation as well in “The Curse of Christ’s Wound: Christ’s Blood as ‘Anti-relic.’” Loveridge considers the implications of an episode in John Mirk’s Festial in which the touch of Christ’s blood condemns a heretical merchant. This ‘anti-relic’ changes from marking Christ’s sacrifice to marking the merchant as a monstrous sacrifice.
In addition to these articles, we are pleased to offer you six reviews of recent publications on subjects of interest to medieval scholars and teachers. The success of Hortulus’ reviews section has encouraged us to inaugurate a new “rolling reviews” section, which will be available on the website between issues. We hope that this will allow us to include a greater variety of reviews and to make those reviews available to our readers as quickly as possible.
The breadth of this issue would not have been possible without the careful and incisive work of our assistant editors, Amiri Ayanna, Elisabeth Mincin, and Alexandra Verini. Many thanks also to Melissa Ridley Elmes for organizing and presiding over the Hortulus-sponsored session at the International Congress on Medieval Studies, which was held in Kalamazoo, Michigan earlier this month. This session was timed to coincide with our spring issue and also had the topic of wounds, torture and the grotesque. Those of you who were able to attend know what a success this session was, with two excellent presentations: Rachel Levinson-Emley from the University of California at Santa Barbara presented “Holy Blood, Holey Body” and Susan Anderson from Arizona State University presented “’Food for the Beasts’: Broken Human Bodies in Medieval Bestiary Illuminations.”
On a sadder note, this issue marks the end of Meghan Glass’ tenure as co-editor of Hortulus. During Meghan’s time here, she has guided Hortulus toward greater prominence in medieval studies, including instituting the Hortulus-sponsored session at Kalamazoo, increasing publication of the journal to twice a year, and helping oversee the revamping of the website including the addition of interactive footnotes and links to relevant sources and encouraging greater reader participation. We wish her the best of luck as she goes on to submit her PhD thesis at the end of the summer.
We hope you enjoy this issue, and we look forward to hearing your comments. Please take a moment and contribute to the discussion in the comments sections below each article, or by sending us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
co-editor of Hortulus