The Epistemological Function of Monsters in the Middle Ages
By Albrecht Classen
LO SGUARDO – RIVISTA DI FILOSOFIA – No.9 (2012)
Abstract: Monsters in the Middle Ages assumed significant epistemological functions, providing an image of the complete ‘other’ in the human quest for the self. Since late antiquity teratology played a big role in literature, art, philosophy, and religion, but meaning and relevance of monsters changed from author to author (the same applies to their visual representation). This article provides an overview of how the image of the monster changed throughout times and how individual writers evaluated them.
The critical examination of monster lore, miracles, marvels, portents, and the like has a long history, especially because the study of the Other, the complete alter, has proven to be fundamental in the analysis of the history of mentality, spirituality, and ideology both in the past and in the present. In fact, in light of modern conditions all over the world, with ever more people migrating, emigrating, and immigrating, leading to ever more cultural problems, issues, and conflicts1, scholarly investigations of how the experience with ‘the Other’ was dealt with in the Middle Ages promise to yield far-reaching insights for us today as well as a model of how individuals, groups of people, or societies reacted to and dealt with outsiders and foreigners.