From Aesop to Reynard: Beast Literature in Medieval Britain

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What do stories about animals have to tell us about human beings? This book analyzes the shrewd perceptions about human life - and especially human language - that emerge from narratives in which the main figures are 'talking animals'. Its guiding question is not 'what' but 'how' animals mean. Using this question to draw a clear distinction between beast fable and beast epic, it goes on to examine the complex variations of these forms that are to be found in the literature of medieval Britain, in English, French, Latin, and Scots. The range, variety, and brilliant inventiveness of this tradition are demonstrated in chapters on the fables of Marie de France, the Speculum stultorum of Nigel of Longchamp (the comic adventures of a donkey), the debate poem The Owl and the Nightingale, Chaucer's Parliament of Fowls and the tales of the Squire, Manciple and Nun's Priest, the Reynardian tale of The Fox and the Wolf, and the Moral Fabillis of Robert Henryson. English translations provided for all quotations make the works discussed accessible to the modern reader.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This book stimulates thought at every turn...As scholars of the next generation turn to the fable tradition armed with their own, surely very different, questions about it, they will be indebted to Mann's rigorous organization of the vast literary habitat in which medieval British animals have found their abode." —Speculum

"From Aesop to Reynard is an outstanding contribution to the study of both the fable and the beast epic. although Mann focuses on English authors, she is careful to set these writers in their European context, and thus scholars of the beast fable and epic in other medieval European languages will want to read this book as well. It is a finely written and presented study that will stand for some time as the guide to medieval English beast literature." —Journal of Folklore Research

"An impeccably researched and wonderfully clever survey on beast literature." —Comitatus: A Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199217687
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 1/11/2010
  • Pages: 448
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Jill Mann took her B.A. from St Anne's College, Oxford, and her Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge. After a year teaching at the University of Kent at Canterbury, she took up a Fellowship at Girton College, Cambridge, where she later became Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English. In 1999 she resigned from Cambridge in order to take up an endowed chair at the University of Notre Dame, where she remained until her retirement in 2004. She is the author of Chaucer and Medieval Estates Satire (1973) and Feminizing Chaucer (2002), and has edited The Canterbury Tales (in the original Middle English) for Penguin Classics (2005). Her long-standing interest in medieval beast literature bore fruit in her dual-language edition of the Latin beast epic Ysengrimus (1987). She is a Fellow of the British Academy, an Honorary Fellow of St Anne's College, Oxford, and a Life Fellow of Girton College, Cambridge.

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