Wundervölker, Monstrosität und Hässlichkeit im Mittelalter (German Edition)

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MONSTROSITÄT - Definition and synonyms of Monstrosität in the German dictionary

Dealing with this functional aspect of lyrical description, this paper aims for having a share in the research on the medieval portrayal of female ugliness, which is still in its infancy. Before being able to deal with the issue at hand, it must be shed light on what was considered ugly in the English lyric poetry of the Middle Ages and how this ugly manner of describing women became evident. An answer to these questions must implicitly be connected with the contrasting imagery of beauty and the concept of physiognomy through which a person's looks was related to a person's morality.

Finally, the main functions will be demonstrated which feminine ugliness fulfilled within the medieval English lyric poetry. As ugliness is the subject of this paper, it is inevitable to initially define what was generally thought to be trademarks of ugliness in medieval English poetry.

Since the Middle Ages had no ideal of perfect ugliness, yet of perfect pulchritude Ziolkowski 14 , ugliness can only be explained by simultaneously referring to the concept of beauty being predominant at that time. Umberto Eco speaks of a rigid and "almost mathematical" concept of proportion 29 and relates by that to the extraordinary strict beauty catalogue that emerged by the 12th century.

This concept of idealized beauty was a convention of literature and art and based on ancient Greek and Roman poetry, courtly lyrics, and the poems of Petrarch Evans Dedicating exclusively to women and reducing all life down to one-dimensional references, this catalogue of beauty became manifest in a trinity consisting of order , idealization , and comparison.

It determined in which order and by what terms and with which comparisons a female body had to be characterized. The order of such beautiful descriptions was amazingly linear: from the head of the desirable object downwards to the feet, of course, all this with the "obligatory jump over the female genitalia" Ziolkowski 4. Apart from this austere order, the canon also clarified very rigidly what was regarded as beautiful and asked for authorized idealizations.

Synonyms and antonyms of Monstrosität in the German dictionary of synonyms

Female hair had to be long and blonde; foreheads had to be smooth and moderate-sized; eyebrows had to be delicate; a chest had to be white; breasts had to be firm and little, and the like Curry 3. Whiteness was the unquestionable norm.

Introduction - black and white

Apart from such idealizations, it was also customary to emphasise women's beauty with comparisons to beautiful things such as lilies, the rising sun, the nightly sky, or red roses Evans Having this convention in mind and taking into account that the Middle Ages knew only two extremes concerning female looks, ugliness made an appearance as the exact opposite of beauty and became evident whenever the authorized representation of beauty through order, idealization, and authorized comparisons was transgressed.

The transgression of the concept of feminine beauty into the realm of ugliness was achieved by disorder , counteridealization , and inappropriate comparisons Curry By applying disorder , medieval poets rearranged the common succession of illustrating beauty and performed a parodying misinterpretation of the tedious convention of describing women from head to toe Ziolkowski 3. The most obvious depictions of ugliness can be found in descriptions where ugliness emerged as the explicit opposite of beauty and therefore as counteridealization.

The poet not only displaced positive attributes of his mistress' to wrong places, he also counteridealized those attributes by describing as "narw and smal" L31 what was supposed to be wide and broad and as "gray" L40 what was supposed to be red. Apart from disorder and counteridealization, inappropriate comparisons were willingly used by medieval English poets to unfold female ugliness. Apart from Hoccleve, who describes Lady Moneye's "body shape as a footbal" L42 and remarks that "shee syngith ful lyk a papeiay" L43 , John Lydgate also used strange similes in his poem My fayr lady, so fressh of hewe and likened a woman's appearance and behaviour to that of swines', sheep's, cows', and goats' Exceeding even more by replacing the common beauty norm of whiteness with blackness, William Dunbar compared the facial features Of Ane Blak-Moir with cats L8 and apes L6.

All these examples demonstrate that ugliness had many faces and appeared when poets used disorder, counteridealization, and inappropriate comparisons to thwart the constricting corset of describing female beauty.

Meaning of "Monstrosität" in the German dictionary

Taking into consideration the results from the paragraphs above, it can be stated that ugliness came in many forms and gave medieval poets the opportunity to disengage from the narrow set of the authorized order, terms, metaphors, and similes. Nevertheless, although English poets used the concept of ugliness for reasons of individuality, ugliness fulfilled specific functions in lyric poetry which beauty could not.

In order to analyze those functions, it is necessary to relate the medieval depictions of beauty and ugliness to the concept of physiognomy which was generally accepted at that time. From this concept the substance of ugliness can be derived: disreputability.

Apart from the strict trinity of dis order , counter idealization , and inappropriate comparisons , the concept of both beauty and ugliness based on the "teaching" of physiognomy , the utterly common assessment of a person's morality and fate from his or her physical appearance Megow In medieval lyric poetry, physiognomy appeared as "unhappy marriage of rhetorical description and moral attitude" Ziolkowski This means that the rhetorical description of optical properties were thought to be evidence for either respectability or disreputability of a person and, therefore, to praise the well-shaped for their assumed moral integrity and blame the misshapen for their assumed moral dishonesty Pearsall The remarkable influence of physiognomy in medieval English lyric poetry referred also very much to the rhetorical style of Sidonius Apollinaris, whose description of physical features were exaggerated in either way to betray moral characteristics Vogt Following the results provided in the previous paragraph, ugliness emerged mainly as a purposeful means of drawing attention at a person's iniquitous character Curry 7.

When it came to women, descriptions of beauty accorded with the medieval demand that a respectable damsel had to act as the "desirable object of conquest and love" and motherhood Kasten , while highlighting her ugliness was to reveal her assumed shortcomings in these fields. This feminine disreputability referred to what was regarded as a sexual inadequacy, perversion, frivolity, licentiousness, and promiscuity, and was to blame the immorality of outlandish women such as the old, black, lowborn, and cursed.

This functional aspect of ugliness was practically generated by exposition , juxtaposition , and transformation.


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Apart from John Lydgate, who describes My fayr lady, so fressh of hewe by using strange and animal metaphors which exposed her assumed sexual perversion , William Dunbar blames the sexual frivolity Of ane Blak-Moir by referring to her skin colour and using extravagant animal metaphors. Since whiteness was the feminine beauty norm and basis for respectability, blackness was considered corybantic, outlandish, dangerous, and "needed" comparing to animals such as cats and apes L6 und 8. The descriptions of Elynour Rummyng's repulsiveness were to betray also the lowborn status and low life of female vendors and conveyed the message that a respectable woman would never be working in certain professions.

Therefore, Skelton used ugliness to blame a low life by referring to sexual immorality.

The Concept of Feminine Ugliness in Medieval English Poetry

Besides these examples of female immorality, there were further poets who dealt with old-age's ugliness in order to mock shortcomings in sexual attraction. The two poems I haue a lady where so she be and O mosy Quince hangyng by your stalke were lyrical children of the 15th century and stressed ugliness of aged women who were incapable of doing worse than taking off their gown Person Such manners of describing old-age's ugliness are very much interconnected with the literary idea of memento mori.

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