Good versus Evil: Representations of the Monstrous in Thirteenth Century Anglo-French Apocalypse Manuscripts
By Anahit Behrooz
FORUM: University of Edinburgh Postgraduate Journal of Culture and the Arts, Issue 22 (2016)
Abstract: This paper examines one of the oldest ideological conflicts of all time: that between the divine powers of good and evil in the Book of Revelation, as represented in thirteenth century Anglo-French apocalypse manuscripts. Using a theoretical framework based on medieval conceptions of the monstrous and the monstrous body, this paper will explore contrasting representations of moral ideology in three different Apocalypse manuscripts (the Trinity Apocalypse, the Douce Apocalypse, and the Getty Apocalypse), arguing that the monstrous body is employed throughout these manuscripts in order to delineate between the forces of good and evil.
Introduction: In depicting St John’s apocalyptic visions of the end of days and the final epic battle between God and his army of angels and the forces of evil, Revelation is a text which can easily be interpreted as an allegory or embodiment of the dichotomy or “near dualism” of good and evil. Each figure has its mirror image: God and Satan, Jesus and the Antichrist, the Archangel Michael and the Beast, the Woman clothed in the Sun and the Whore of Babylon. This symmetrical construction concretises the opposing sides of good and evil for the reader and emphasises their fundamental differences. Mireille Mentré argues that while in our modern times, we are obsessed with exploring and understanding the side of evil in our considerations of the fate of the world, medieval people “emphasised instead the good and the coherent…” (“mirent au contraire l’accent sur le bien et sur le cohérent…”; my translation, 14).
To what extent, however, is this true? Did medieval portrayals and examinations of the end of days focus on the good, or were they just as curious as Mentré claims the modern age is in depicting the monstrous and the wicked? This article aims to contest Mentre’s statement by exploring the medieval representation of the Apocalypse through its depictions of the monstrous and sinful. By approaching these texts with an emphasis on the creatures which they supposedly marginalize, both the centrality of the monstrous and the conflict in ideology between the monstrous and non-monstrous become clearer. In order to examine this conflict, we must turn to the most popular representation of the Book of Revelation in the Middle Ages, the Apocalypse manuscripts, in order to discover how they approached opposing portrayals of good and evil.