Honors Capstone Project
Date of Submission
Professor Samantha Herrick
Professor Dennis Romano
Arts and Science
Capstone Prize Winner
Won Capstone Funding
European History | History | Other History
This thesis endeavors to explain the variations in representations of anti-Semitism between medieval bestiaries. Medieval bestiaries, compilations concerning animals and their moralized characteristics, were a type of medieval literature commonly produced throughout Western Europe. In order to make a more concrete analysis, this study focuses on two particular medieval bestiaries comparable in both date and style – The Aberdeen Bestiary from England and Le Bestiaire from northern France. Both date from the early 13th century and are classified as Second-family moralizing bestiaries, that is, they both derive from the Latin text Physiologus.
The analysis of these two bestiaries will focus specifically on how they reflect medieval stereotypes of Jews and anti-Semitic themes. First, both bestiaries are individually examined for depictions of medieval anti-Semitism. The Aberdeen Bestiary focuses on the medieval perception of Jews as potentially dangerous and terrifying “others,” who allegedly prey upon Christians, while Le Bestiaire focuses on the perception of Jews as a religious threat in need of conversion. As these two bestiaries are comparable in both date and format, the question arises, why do they vary so significantly with regard to anti-Semitic representations? While both The Aberdeen Bestiary and Le Bestiaire originate in northwestern Europe shortly before the period of mass Jewish expulsion, the particular regions of medieval England and northern France differed significantly in political, economic, and societal environments. Therefore, by analyzing the regional character of anti-Semitism in medieval England and in northern France the variations in the anti-Semitic representations appearing in The Aberdeen Bestiary and Le Bestiaire become comprehensible. Consequently, this thesis argues that there is a strong regional impact on medieval text and image, as understood through an analysis of representations of anti-Semitism in medieval bestiaries.
 Willene B. Clark, A Medieval Book of Beasts: The Second-family Bestiary (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2006), 10, 14.
 Clark, A Medieval Book of Beasts: The Second-family Bestiary, 10, 14.
 Ibid; Debra Higgs Strickland, Saracens, Demons, and Jews (Princeton: Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2003), 95-96.
 Raphael Langham, The Jews in Britain: A Chronology (Houndsmill: Basingstoke: Hampshire: New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 8-9, 22-23; Robert Chazan, The Jews of Medieval Western Christendom: 1000-1500 (Cambridge: New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 146.
Spencer, Sarah Elizabeth, "The Regional Impact on Medieval Text and Image: Exploring Representations of Anti-Semitism in English and Northern French Medieval Bestiaries" (2012). Syracuse University Honors Program Capstone Projects. 193.
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