By David Steinberg
“Medieval Animals” may seem a bit odd as a title for a lecture series.
On closer observation, the series, sponsored by the University of New Mexico Institute of Medieval Studies, is serious stuff. It looks at how humans and animals interacted at key points during the Middle Ages.
The series, which is free and open to the public, runs Monday, April 24 through Thursday, April 27.
According to Timothy Graham, director of the institute, lecture topics include how Medieval authors used animal characters to critique human behavior; how legends about animals, real and mythical, became moral examples; and how the representation of animals in Medieval art served as didactic and decorative functions in culture.
“An underlying theme of the series will be to compare and contrast the treatment of animals within Medieval Western and Islamic cultures,” Graham said in a press release.
Listed chronologically, here is the information on the six lectures, all of which will be held in Room 101 of UNM’s Woodward Hall:
—7:15 p.m. Monday. Paul Cobb will lecture on “Charlemagne’s Elephant.” The lecture will track the elephant’s journey from Baghdad to Aachen and will discuss Charlemagn’es ownership of the elephant and its possible use in his military campaigns. In about the year 800, the elephant was a gift from the Islamic Caliph to Charlemagne, the recently crowned leader of the Roman Empire. Cobb is professor of Islamic History and chair of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania.
—5:15 p.m. Tuesday. Jan Ziolkowski will talk about “Animals and Sex in the Middle Ages.” It’s described as a tongue-in-cheek look at some curious animals legends in the Middle Ages, such as the belief that beavers castrated themselves, which was associated with the clerk’s voluntary celibacy. Ziolkowski is professor of Medieval Latin at Harvard and director of the school’s Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.
—7:15 p.m. Tuesday. Janet Rebold Benton will discuss “The Medieval Menagerie: Animals in the Art of the Middle Ages.” It’s about the roles animals played in art – from wall paintings and stained glass to sculpture, metalwork and tapestries. In particular, she will consider why artists liked to combine body parts of of unrelated animals, such as the ant and the lion. Benton is Distinguished Professor of Art History at Pace University.
—5:15 p.m. Wednesday. Cobb return to the lecturn to discuss “Animals on Crusade.” The Crusades shaped how Western Europeans and Muslims thought about animals and how they treated them. That treatment also influenced how humans related to each other.
—7:15 p.m. Wednesday. Richard McGregor will lecture on “The Case of the Animals versus Humans: An Islamic Ethics from Medieval Iraq.” He will discuss a famous 10th century ethical text that featured animals who speak in court about human foibles.
—7:15 p.m. Thursday. Elizabeth Morrison, the final lecturer, will give an illustrated talk about “Lions, Tigers, and Dragons – Oh My! Real and Imaginary Animals in the Middle Ages.” It will focus on how animals – both real and invented – were depicted in Medieval books. Morrison is senior curator of manuscripts at the J. Paul Getty Museum.
There is also a free concert that the UNM Early Music Ensemble will give at 5:15 p.m. Thursday in UNM’s Keller Hall, Center for the Arts. The program contains sacred and secular Medieval compositions that describe various types of birds and animals, including a pet ferret.