Introducing the Medieval Ass presents a lucid, accessible, and comprehensive picture of the ass’s enormous socio-economic and cultural significance in the Middle Ages and beyond. In the Middle Ages, the ass became synonymous with human idiocy, a comic figure representing foolish peasants, students too dull to learn, and their asinine teachers. This trope of foolishness was so prevalent that by the eighteenth century the word ‘ass’ had been replaced by ‘donkey’. Economically, the medieval ass was a vital, utilitarian beast of burden, rather like today’s ubiquitous white van; culturally, however, the medieval ass enjoyed a rich, paradoxical reputation. Its hard work was praised, but its obstinacy condemned. It exemplified the good Christian, humbly bearing Christ to Jerusalem, but also represented Sloth, a mortal sin. Its potent sexual reputation – one literary ass had sex with a woman – was simultaneously linked to sterility and, to this day, ‘ass’ and ‘arse’ remain culturally-connected homophones.
This is the first book dedicated to the medieval ass
It appeals to a multi-Audience: interested lay readership; accessible, introductory and undergraduate level book; scholar
This book explains how the medieval ass was an arse, an idiot, a violent hot-tempered sexed-up brute that ate the balls of its own male offspring. Conversely, the ass was also a humble, patient, loyal, hard-working Christian animal (marked with a cross) that Christ rode into Jerusalem. These paradoxical qualities are explored in this book and open up a wealth of information on how people in the Middle Ages viewed the ass, not just as a simple beast of burden, but also as a figure to warn and to educate, to expose human failings and praise the divine.
Introducing the Medieval Ass reveals medieval attitudes to animals, to people, and to the divine, making it an excellent way to approach medieval cultural and animal studies.
Kathryn Smithies is a medieval historian, and research and teaching associate in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne.
University of Wales Press
University of Wales Press believes in supporting and disseminating scholarship from and about Wales to a worldwide audience. They mainly publish books in the humanities, arts and sciences.