Here are a few of my better papers from my days as an undergrad English major.
The Dynamic Muse
The Literary and Spiritual Personification of Creativity
There have always been unseen forces that influence and inspire the lives of Men, forces that are as mysterious as they are powerful. The Ancient Greeks explained and personified these creative forces in a variety of contexts, and while these explanations have distinct manifestations in literature and religion across time, the explanations found in each sphere are surprisingly similar, and it is possible to catch a glimpse of the underlying power common to each interpretation. This study traces the origins of Muse figures from their beginnings in Ancient Greece and also examines the Greek concept of daimons, comparing the two figures and arguing that they may be regarded as the same power in different manifestations. These figures are found again in adapted form within poets of the Italian Trecento, and are considered in a more Christianized light in works of Dante, Cavalcanti, and others. Even more modern psychology has attempted to explain this creative power, most notably the Jungian complex of Anima/Animus. The human mind experiences something sacred during acts of pure creativity, and throughout human history, people have attempted to explain this phenomenon in different ways, ranging from a supernatural explanation of gods and goddess, to a scientific explanation that seats the creative power at the heart of the human psyche itself. In reality, this creative power is the same regardless of what theory one chooses to apply to it, and it is perhaps by examining the presence of this force over the course of literary, spiritual, and even psychological history that it is possible to catch a glimpse of the truth that stands behind all great creative works and lives.
Traditionally, the Ancient Greeks called their inspiring force the Muse. According to Hesiod, the Muses are nine women, the daughters of Zeus and the goddess Memory (Hesiod 24). Poets often included praise and invocations to the Muses at the onset of their poems in the hopes of winning the Muses’ blessing and power for their work, for believing in such a force behind creative endeavors would lend not only authority to the artist himself, but also take some of the focus off the poet and point to higher power as the source the work, creating a cyclical pattern of authority between source, artist, and art.
The gifts of the Muses, according to Hesiod, are easy to perceive. He states that if the Muses love a man, “His voice flows sweetly from his mouth and when a man has sorrow… if a bard, the servant of the Muses, sings… at once that man forgets his heavy heart… so quick the Muses’ gift diverts his mind” (26). The Muses’ favor bestows not only eloquence, but reason and charisma as well: “People look to him when he is giving judgment uprightly, and speaking with assurance, he can stop great quarrels… can set things straight with ease, advising with soft words… He is wooed with honeyed reverence, just like a god, and is conspicuous above the crowd” (26). In this description, Hesiod is illustrating that the Muses’ influence is not inherently relegated to art and words alone; their influence can be felt in an individual’s life as a whole, both in his ethics and truth of the Self, and the Muses can lend their eloquent aid to endeavors outside of the artistic realm.
Parallel to the idea of the Muses, the Greeks had a concept of Daimons, which are considerably more fluid in concept than the nine established Muses. In reference to the works of Homer, F. A. Willford described it this way: “the word [Daimon] is mostly held to refer to some vaguely personal, sometimes hostile, and always uncanny force at large in the world, alien and external to the human personality; while in later writers it is often used in… [the sense of] a divine being, not a god, in a special and often beneficial relation to the individual” (217). Willford describes three manifestations of daimonic power that can be seen in Homeric texts: Possession—where a man becomes “fully in the grip of some supernatural power” (221)— a negative influence, raising storms and taking the role of a trickster, and a positive force, which “operates internally upon the individual’s thoughts or feelings” (221). These three manifestations are not necessarily separate powers, but rather different sides to the same entity(s). The Daimons act in whatever way they must in order to guide the fates of Man.
The idea that there is an outside power influencing an individual’s fate is found in numerous Greek texts. In his Socratic dialogues, Plato describes how Socrates himself had a personal relationship with a daimon. Socrates often refers to it as his “divine sign” or personal “oracle.” Lines in the Euthyphro suggest it was this “divine sign” that was the underlying reason for Socrates’ trial: “[Euthyphro:] they mean to attack you about the familiar sign which occasionally, as you say, comes to you… [Socrates:] from jealousy, they are angry” (Plato, Euthyphro 5). However, this gestalt does not trouble Socrates, because his Daimon has always “been in the habit of opposing [him] even about trifles, if [he] were going to make a slip or error in any matter” (Plato, Apology 65). Because the Daimon has not opposed him, Socrates believes that it is his fate to be tried and eventually sentenced to death: “It is an intimation that what has happened to me is good, and that those of us who think that death is an evil are in error. For the divine sign would surely have opposed me had I been going to evil and not to good” (Plato, Apology 65).
The Daimons, then, can be regarded as guardians of human fate. According to Iamblichus, each man has a “personal Daimon,” who oversees his entry and exit in the mortal realm and “is given to us for the purpose of fulfilling the dispensations of fate” (331). The soul selects its personal Daimon prior to birth, at which point, the Daimon is bound to the soul and its earthly body. Once bound, the Daimon helps guide all parts of the soul’s being (Iamblichus 339). In this way, the religious concept of Daimon can be linked with the literary concept of Muse. Both entities are present right from the start of an individual’s life, as Hesiod states that the Muse “… brings honor upon a heaven-favored lord and… watch[es] him being born” (26). Similarly, Daimons can influence a person’s words and work just as a Muse might: “The fire of Daimons can be expressed in speech” and when individuals “contemplate Daimons, they receive a desire for the realm of generation, a longing for nature and for the fulfillment of great works” (Iamblichus 105). Just like the Muse, the presence of the Daimon is inherently inspiring. Therefore, it is possible to see that these two entities are in fact one entity that is regarded in different ways depending on an individual’s purpose and outlook.
While the Muse is a much more personified form, it is not so different from the Daimon in terms of power and function. Muses are more specialized, as it were, as opposed to Daimons who are “allotted administrative power, and guard the parts of the universe… they assume guardianship over the arcane mysteries” and help maintain order in the universe (Iamblichus 289). Daimon has a broader definition than Muse, but in essence, Muses fall under the larger idea of Daimons. The Muses have been more personified as a result of the area they preside over: the Arts, which provides more opportunities for them to be portrayed and personified in written and visual media. While it is true that Muses and daimons function differently in Greek literature and mind, they walk the line of the sacred and secular, and stem from the same source: that amorphous inspiring power that spawns creativity and influences fate.
The tradition of the amorphous creative power was carried out of the ancient world and into the Medieval period under various guises. In Bernardus Silvestris’s Cosmographia, all manner of spirits are described as existing between Earth and Heaven, and in particular between the Earth and the Moon: “Now along this lunar boundary… thousands of spirits thronged joyously together, like citizens of a crowded city” (Silvestris 105). These spirits, according to Silvestris “are blest with understanding and recollection, and their powers of vision are so subtle and penetrating that, plumbing the dark depths of the spirit, they perceive the hidden thought of the mind” (107). This is a strong echo of both the daimonic and the Muse tradition, particularly as the spirits are blest with great powers of recollection, for Hesiod states the Muses are born of Memory (Hesiod 24). Iamblichus also speaks of the daimons being able to see deep into the human spirit (Iamblichus 339), thus the sublunary spirits of Cosmographia are a distinct blend of both Muse and Daimon. Of these spirits, Silvestris describes the genius, who, like the Daimons of Iamblichus accompany the souls of humans from birth until death:
When the new design, the new creation of man has taken place, a genius will be assigned to watch over him, drawn from this most merciful and serviceable race of spiritual powers, whose benevolence is so deep-seated and unalterable, that they shun, out of a hatred of evil, any contact with the vile or displeasing; but when, through the inspiration of divine powers, some virtuous act is undertaken, they are ever at hand (107).
In the same way, this genius echoes the Daimon of Socrates, who only ever cautioned him against wrongdoing (Plato, Apology 65). Silvestris explicitly states “the genius which is joined to man from the first stages of his conception… shows him, by forebodings of mind, dreams, or portentous displays of external signs, the dangers to be avoided” (108). This is a direct correlation to Plato’s dialogue Crito, in which Socrates is visited by a spirit in a dream: “I had a vision last night… there came to me the likeness of a woman, clothed in white raiment, who called to me” (Plato, Crito 71). The vision of this spirit foretells Socrates’s death, but even with the knowledge of where his path shall lead him, Socrates is willing to follow the instructions of the spirits that guide him: “A voice which I seem to hear murmuring in my ears, like the sound of the flute in the ears of the mystic; that voice, I say, is humming my ears, and prevents me from hearing any other” (Plato, Crito 84). This voice fits the description of Iamblichus, who says the Daimons can be perceived as a spiritual presence, seen in the mind’s eye, and can sometimes speak with a seemingly audible voice (Iamblichus 87).
The sublunary spirits found in Cosmographia also share a direct correlation to Iamblichus’s description of the Daimons in that they never forsake the tasks given to them: “The first rank of spirits [the genius] I call the guardians, those intermediary interpreters… who never abandon their positions… nor cease to perform the tasks assigned to them.” (108). The term “interpreters” rings with bold connotations of language and speech, which bridges the gap between the Daimon and the Muse, for both are masters of language and bring inspired words from the higher power into the mind of Man.
When Silvestris describes the creation of Man, Noys declares “[Man] will derive his understanding from heaven, his body from the elements, so that while his body sojourns on the earth, his mind may dwell far above” (Silvestris 113). Thus the genius, as Silvestris calls it, provides the link between this earthly existence and the divine thought.
However, Silvestris cautions that of the sublunary spirits, there are both good and evil. While they exist in close proximity, the genius should not be confused with the “agents of the lord of cruelty” (Silvestris 108). This, too, appears in Iamblichus who speaks of both good and evil Daimons (Iamblichus 101). Thus, the question of Daimon vs. Demon arises, a problem that runs rampant in Christianity. According to the teachings of Christianity, God is the only divine presence, and His Holy Spirit is the only allowable spirit in the Christian doctrine. Thus, the good spirits, Daimons, became lumped together with their evil counterparts, reflected even in the linguistic shift from Daimon to Demon. This quite literal demonization of the creative guardian spirits produced a shift in the human understanding of creativity and its manifestations, which came to the forefront of poetry in the Italian Trecento.
The Italian Trecento carved a new facet into the Muse tradition. Where before the Muses and daimons had been specific goddesses or spirits, many Italian authors began personifying their creativity in uniquely personal manifestations. Most of these new personifications took the form of women, such as Cavalcanti’s lady in “Donna Me Prega,” or the angelic woman of Guinizelli’s “To A Gently Noble Heart.” Perhaps the most prominent author in this new expression is Dante, for he held a lifelong passion for the idealized form of Beatrice, a passion that inspired his greatest works and led him on a spiritual journey through the divine realms on a path to truth and knowledge of his own soul. However, the Muse always has two sides: a destructive power that can drive the author mad, and the glowing creativity that can not only inspire enduring eloquence, but offer the author a glimpse into the divine truth at the core of all existence. It is the challenge of the author to find balance between these polarities and work towards an understanding of the relationship among himself, his Muse, and the greater universe.
Despite their unique poetic voices, many of the Italian authors took a similar approach to their personal Muse figure. There is always something inexplicably divine about these Muses. In his poem “To a Gently Noble Heart,” Guido Guinizelli imagines himself being questioned by God as to why he assumed his lady was divine, to which the poet replies: “She took the semblance of an angel who was from your realm. It was not my fault to arrive at loving her” (Cirigliano 39). Because Christianity was now widespread, authors did not have the (perhaps more convenient) pagan explanation of creativity; that is, the nine Muses or the personal Daimon. Instead, they were forced to try to fit the divine nature of inspiration into the Christian framework where only God, or the Holy Trinity, is truly divine. As in the case of Guinizelli, the author might wonder if their Muse is an angel. Others framed it as their Muse being only a vessel or pathway to the divine, a transcendent experience that was both overwhelmingly beautiful and simultaneously terrifying; a common effect of the Muse’s power.
Guido Cavalcanti tries to express the sublime nature of his experience with this power, but his words can only provide a slant glimpse of the truth of such an experience, as its power naturally avoids human definition: “It takes—in the potential intellect as in the subject—position and residence, never physical there, since it descends not from matter: shining—in its own perpetual effect, not delighting—but reflecting beyond all comparison” (Cirigliano 69). Here the author has been touched by something beyond himself, something that is not God—for it would be much easier to simply say it is God—but rather some numinous force that has seated itself within his own mind and soul, and which eludes description or neat categorization. Cavalcanti continues his attempt to portray this power: “It exists when desire is beyond measure—of nature it comes, then does not honor, never resting—it moves, changing—color, laughs to tears—and the victim, with fear, turns away” (Cirigliano 71). This is a restless, change-producing entity, fickle yet great. The awe-inspiring power of the experience is naturally frightening to the author’s mortal mind, a fear Cavalcanti tries to encapsulate in yet another poem: “The hand moving [the quill] feels doubtful things appear in his heart— so destroying him, so taking him near death, so but to sigh” (Cirigliano 67). This dichotomous nature is a hallmark of the Muse, for “the state of inspiration is often accompanied by two distinct and vivid impressions; the sense of possession and the sense of compulsion” (Harding15).
Like Cavalcanti, Petrarch discloses that to behold the inspiring figure of Love is also somehow terrible and destructive: “so sweetly does Love dazzle me… my blind soul consents to its own death” (Cirigliano 125). He describes the effect of Love’s presence in another of his poems as “a sweet and bitter thought—with a difficult and pleasing burden sitting in my soul—presses my heart with desire, feeds it with hope, but for glorious and nourishing fame, it doesn’t feel when I freeze or burn, if I’m pale and wasted—and if I kill it, it’s reborn stronger. Day by day growing in me, this, since I slept in swaddling” (Cirigliano 131). This passage also connects to Hesiod, who explains that the Muse accompanies a favored man from his birth (Hesiod 26), and also to Iamblichus’ description of the daimon that accompanies a soul from the start of its life (Iamblichus 339). The idea that the power which compels the author’s creativity is also one capable of bringing him to a type of death is one that is echoed over and over throughout poems of the Trecento, most notably in the works of Dante.
In Vita Nuova, Dante begins by saying, “In the book of my Memory… here begins a new life” (Dante 3). Dante states that this transformation begins in Memory, the classical birthplace of the Muse. After beholding Beatrice, he has been shaken to the core and realizes, upon reflection—entering Memory, the realm of the Muse— that he can never be the same again. This is a type of symbolic, transformative death, in some ways a personal Resurrection, which is demarcated by the event of the living Beatrice’s death. After her death, Dante is able to more fully utilize the creative power she ushers into him, because he is no longer bound by the limitations of a mortal woman, in turn transforming the memory of her into a vessel of his own transcendence: “[upon beholding Beatrice after her death] my dead spirits were coming back to life… I have set foot on the boundary of life beyond which no one can go, hoping to return” (Dante 25). This sounds strongly like some of the claims he makes in Inferno and The Divine Comedy as a whole; already Beatrice, his personal Muse, has begun planting the seeds for his magnum opus, although Dante himself has not fully realized them yet. In Vita Nuova, Dante is more preoccupied with the vision of Beatrice herself, whereas in later works—most notably The Divine Comedy—he has begun to look past his Muse to the greater and more cosmic truth she has the power to lead him to.
The Italian Trecento marks a period where the Muse was no longer a god or goddess on its own, but rather a type of messenger for the one true God, or at the very least the ability of Man to conceive of God, illustrating the Muse’s capacity for adaptation. While most of the classical gods had to be discarded or bound into a strictly literary perception, the Muse was able to escape the iconoclasm because its power often had no specific icon. The creative force is ever in flux and open to endless interpretations. The Italians poets were able to connect with that power and channel it into a more personal interpretation that could mesh with both their socio-political lives as well as their spiritual ones. With this new adaptation, they were able to explore new poetic forms, as well as rethink and refashion ideas of Love. With their personal Muses to inspire them, these authors proved that while God’s love is the root of all things, it is a more worldly personal love that can lead a person to the divine truth.
As the centuries have passed and science risen in interest and influence, however, spiritual concepts of Muse and Daimon have mostly been quashed and relegated to the realm of fantasy or delusion. However, the Muse has proven adept at changing with the passage of time, and it found a place it could adapt within modern psychology. It was Carl Jung who introduced the theory of the Archetypes—powerful unconscious entities that exist in the collective human psyche—and it was there the Muse established its new kingdom in the modern world.
The Muse or Daimon hides in the archetype of the Anima and Animus, the opposite gendered counterpart within each individual’s unconscious, which prompts creative work and leads the individual to the true Self (Stein 126). Barbara Hannah puts the Archetypes’ ways of inspiring this way: “The Animus to a great extent writes the books of women and prefers not to give himself away. The Anima on the contrary, seems to be fond of sitting for her portrait” (Hannah 5). The Anima is much easier to spot in the works of men, because she is like the Muses of Hesiod, who enjoy being praised as the goddess they are (Hesiod 24). The Animus, on the other hand, is a much more subtle entity, who is often more nebulous in form and harder to personify. He coincides more with the Daimons as described by Iamblichus, who can “appear to the view at different times in different forms” and yet “flash forth a beauty almost irresistible, seizing those beholding with wonder… manifesting with ineffable symmetry and transcending in comeliness all other forms” (Iamblichus 89). Both the Anima and Animus prompt creativity by their very presence and beauty, but the Anima is often far more personified in written work.
Poets of the Italian Trecento were able to capture the Anima’s portrait in their verse, and their words illustrate her dual nature. Cavalcanti describes the feeling that filled him when he beheld his lady: “It exists when desire is beyond measure—of nature it comes, then does not honor, never resting—it moves, changing—color, laughs to tears—and the victim, with fear, turns away” (Cirigliano 71). This shifting, entrancing yet terrifying experience coincides almost directly with the description Jung supplies for the Anima:
“As much dreaded as adored… she changes into all sorts of shapes. She causes states of fascination or unleashes terrors in us… she is mischievous, [undergoes] numerous transformations… [wears] countless disguises, playing all kinds of tricks, causing both happy and unhappy delusions, depressions and ecstasies, outbursts of eloquence…” (Jung 26).
The awe-inspiring power of the Anima is heard also in Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy, when Boethius beholds Lady Philosophy for the first time. He says she “demanded absolute reverence… her eyes glowed like fire, penetrating far beyond the common capability of mortals. Her color was intense, her strength inexhaustible… she was so full of eternity” (Boethius 2). This colorful, fiery, nigh-divine quality seems to be a hallmark of the Anima, and her presence in a man’s life can change him completely. In that sense, she is divine in the old sense of the word. Before the advent of Christianity, such a power would be—and was—accepted as divine, and she was regarded as the daughter of Zeus himself. However, the Christian belief that only God can be truly divine has in a way displaced the Muse, the Anima, so that she exists beyond human power and understanding, yet below the ultimate divinity of God. This shrouds her even further in mystery and contributes to her dichotomous nature; she is and is not divine simultaneously. One thing that is certain is the very real effect she can have on the men she inspires, an effect which can torment them like demons, and yet lead them to God like an angel.
Experiencing the Anima/us is, according to Jung, a life-changing event, a kind of symbolic death, “a terrifyingly chaotic thing with deeper meaning… relation with the Anima is a test of courage, an ordeal by fire for the spiritual and moral forces of Man” (Jung 29). This fiery transformation is heard in the poems of Petrarch, who says of his lady, “For you I must burn, I must breathe, I’ve been only yours—and if I’m deprived of you, it pains me much more than any other misfortune” (Cirigliano 135). Earlier, Petrarch confesses, “my blind soul consents to its own death” (Cirigliano 125). The Anima is an ancient archetype of creation and destruction, and one cannot behold her without being changed. In this sense there is something almost Christ-like about the Archetype, in that discovery of it shakes an individual to the core and that person is transformed forever.
However, because suggesting anything other than Christ can produce this effect would be labeled blasphemic and heretical, authors were—and sometimes still are—forced to play a kind of hide-and-seek game within their work when it comes to the true source of their inspiration. An author cannot deny the transformative power of his Muse; Dante, too, describes such an effect: “[upon beholding Beatrice after her death] my dead spirits were coming back to life… I have set foot on the boundary of life beyond which no one can go hoping to return” (Dante 25). While these lines come from Vita Nuova, already Beatrice/the Muse has begun transforming him into the author that will eventually write the masterpiece the Divine Comedy. In some ways the Divine Comedy is an attempt of Dante to balance the transformative power of Beatrice with his religion; as the narrative progresses, he begins to look past the inspiring icon of Beatrice to the God whose salvation she ultimately represents. In the same way, the Anima interacts with the microcosm of the individual mind, leading the mind to knowledge of the true Self, and the truth of individual existence.
The Animus accomplishes the same thing, although he is much harder to spot in literature both because his form is not as recognizable as the Anima’s, and there is not as much work written by women to examine. He is much subtler in women’s writing, but is still a very real presence in women’s stories. Looking back at the Lais of Marie de France, there are motifs of the Animus’s dual nature and his effect on women in a number of the Lais; for example, Bisclavret’s transformation into a werewolf, which when abused by his wife, brings her great strife (Marie 69). There is also an element of the Animus’s protective qualities in Guigemar. The idea that Guigemar has a wound only the woman who suffers for him can heal is a very Animus-like quality, as Hannah says: “the necessary attempts of tying [the Animus] down have caused specific wounds, which must be relieved… the woman has to heal him of his wounds and release him by giving him her very blood for the purpose” (Hannah 143). Guigemar also gives a belt to his lady that only he can untie, which later saves her from the attempted rape by Meriaduc (Marie 53).
However, the Animus makes his greatest appearance in the lai Yonec. The unnamed maiden of the story is locked in a tower by her jealous husband and laments her fate, saying “I have often heard tell that in this country one used to encounter… handsome and courtly lovers, valiant and worthy men. There was no fear of reproach and [the women] alone could see them” (Marie 87). The maiden’s assertion that women alone could see these courtly lovers is a very interesting line and nods perhaps to the idea of an invisible, daimon lover—called by Jung, the Animus. The fact that she only begins to think of these men after she has been locked in the tower nods toward the Animus’s mental, non-psychical presence; towers are often symbols of the higher mind, and it is only there the woman begins to contemplate these “valiant and worthy men.”
Moments after speaking this wish, a hawk flies through the window of her tower and transforms into a man, telling her that he has loved her for a very long time from afar, but could not come to her until she wished for him (Marie 87). This is a very Animus-like entrance, as it illustrates his dual nature as both human and inhuman, and that he is an entity who can only be truly known when summoned and explored by one’s own volition. This knight, Muldumarec, also fits the three qualities of the Animus that Barbara Hannah describes: heroic (a knight), demonic (a shapeshifter), and divine (a magical figure, who is almost Christ-like at times) (Hannah 131). Not long after, Muldumarec takes the shape of the woman herself in order to receive the Eucharist and demonstrate he is a Christian man, perhaps an indication that such a knight can exist within a woman herself; the Animus hidden in the woman’s unconscious.
When Muldumarec is later dying, the author calls great attention to his blood. Hannah Priest’s article Sex, Blood and Shapeshifting discusses in detail the importance of blood within the narrative:
The stress placed on the ‘living’ qualities [of the blood] – red colour, liquidity, copious flow – is significant… it is clear that blood here should be read as more than a material phenomenon. It is a supernatural sign… the narrative focuses on blood, rather than body, as [the knight] dies. As noted, there is biblical authority for this equation of ‘life’ with ‘blood’… Through the transformation of Muldumarec’s body into that of his lover, and the subsequent transfusion of the blood of Christ, the reader is led to view [him] as an ever-changing body that resists categorization (Priest 7).
This is very typical of the Animus, fulfilling most all of Barbara Hannah’s descriptions and playing off a number of divine and earthly motifs. The blood in Yonec not only highlights the divine, almost Christ-like quality of the knight/the Animus, but is significant in that blood flow is also something symbolically female. The Animus is tied to the female body, for he exists within the woman’s mind—illustrated symbolically when Muldumarec transforms into the woman’s body himself—thus the nod toward menstruation cannot be ignored. It is only after Muldumarec is wounded and bleeding that he informs the woman she will have a son, which seems a literary alignment with the biological fact that a woman cannot bear children until she begins her menstrual cycle. The Animus often begins to manifest in a woman’s psyche during puberty (Hannah 19), and as there is a significant age difference between the woman and her jealous husband, it is entirely possible she is rather new to womanhood and thus her unconscious mind is just beginning to awaken in an effort to give her some measure of freedom from her prison.
When Muldumarec dies, he gives to his lover his sword so that she might pass it to their son, and a ring so that her husband will forget her transgressions. Encapsulated in these items are the gifts the Animus bestows on a woman: power of the mind and a spiritual purpose, and power over the men in her life. Regardless of whether Muldumarec’s death is taken to be literal or metaphorical, his presence in the woman’s life gives her purpose—a son to guard and lead to his true identity. While the woman’s fate from the beginning is unjust, her son—the purpose forged by her and her Animus—goes on to avenge his parents and take his place as lord of the Silver City. Thus, the woman and her knight have created something to outlast them in both memory and worldly presence, just as an author creates, with the help of the Muse, a work that will stand the test of time and take its place in the collective human memory, the place from which Hesiod says the Muses themselves are born (Hesiod 24).
While the Anima and Animus have different forms and methods of working, they are ultimately the same power within the mind. They are the new personifications of human creativity, existing in a world where supernatural powers are called mythology, and in a time when even Christianity and spiritual quests are often called nothing more than superstition. Thus, the very real power of creativity has had to once again adapt to keep its place within the human mind and soul. It can no longer be called Muse, or Daimon, or even donna angelicata in the modern world; these concepts are far too mystical for the modern scientific mind. Thus, the creative power must operate under the new context of science and psychology, yet even there, it continues to both baffle and transform the people who engage it. It is a power too essential to the heart of human existence to be forgotten or cast aside in the name of progress, thus it takes whatever form it must to reach the mind it is meant to inspire, so that art can retain its place in humanity’s legacy and its future.
Boethius. Consolation of Philosophy. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2001.
Cirigliano, Marc. Melancolia Poetica. Leicester: Troubador Publishing Ltd, 2007.
Dante. Musa, Mark. trans. Vita Nuova. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1973
Hannah, Barbara. The Animus, Volumes 1 & 2. Chiron Publications, 2010.
Harding, Rosamund. An Anatomy of Inspiration. W. Heffer & Sons Ltd, 1948.
Hesiod. Theogony, Works and Days, and Elegies. Penguin Classics, 1976.
Iamblichus. Dillon, John trans. De Anima. Brill Academic Publishing, 2002.
Iamblichus. Clark, Emma, trans. De Mysterii. Society of Biblical Literature, 2003.
Jung, C. G. The Archetypes and The Collective Unconscious. Princeton University Press,
Marie de France. The Lais of Marie de France. New York, NY: Penguin Putnam, 1999.
Plato. Euthyphro, Apology, Crito. CreateSpace, 2009.
Silvestris, Bernardus. Wetherbee, Winthrop, trans. The Cosmographia. New York:
Columbia University Press, 1990.
Stein, Murray. Jung’s Map of the Soul. Peru, Illinois: Open Court Publishing, 1998.
Willford, F. A. “The Daimon in Homer.” Numen. 12.3 (1965).
The medieval woman is caught between two conflicting ideals. On the one hand, she is Eve, the temptress and corrupter of men; a position that sometimes disempowers her and places her as the victim of men’s power struggles, and other times gives her a dark power over her male counterparts. On the other side, she is Mary, the pure redeemer of womankind, embodying virtue, but this position is also an avenue for female disempowerment, objectifying her and making her little more than a prize to be won.
The changing role of women during the Middle Ages was largely brought about by the rise of the Church’s power. Pat Belanoff describes the woman of earlier Anglo-Saxon literature: “Within the resources available to Anglo-Saxon poets was a traditional image of the female: an intelligent, strong-minded, usually glowing or shining, verbally adept woman whose actions are resolute and self-initiated— unless and until, the wars and feuds of men victimize her” (Belanoff). She goes on to say that “the full impact of the Church’s antifeminist attitudes was not felt until after the Norman Conquest” and that soon after “women began to lose their importance in the political and religious hierarchy” (Belanoff).
This loss of female power can partly be blamed on one of the most influential themes from the Bible upon Medieval thinking: The Fall of Man. Because “the Garden of Eden myth undercuts femaleness,” it is not long before women are seen as bringers of evil (Belanoff). Belanoff describes the danger of women and the source of the fear surrounding them:
Eve’s submission to the devil strongly implies that it is her weak mind that makes her unable to see through the devil’s disguise and deception… [however] in considering Eve’s strength in relation to Adam’s, whatever the cause, it is she who will finally prevails: Adam eats the apple. He can resist the devil but not Eve (Belanoff).
It is this image of the seductress that leads to a good deal of misogyny during the Middle Ages; however, women seemed to be a necessary evil, one that led to a number of double standards, in marital, legal, and religious matters. Ruth Mazo Karras speaks of the presence of brothels: “The philosophy behind the official establishment and regulation of brothels in France, Germany, Spain, and Italy followed church doctrine in treating prostitutes as degraded and defiled but tolerated their activity because of male demand” (Karras). It seems horribly unfair for the women to be condemned for their sins of the flesh and the men’s sin to be sort of swept under the rug, particularly considering that many women became prostitutes out of desperation and being unable to provide for themselves any other way, a desperate situation that stems directly from their disempowered status within society.
On the opposite side, women were objectified and adored for their purity and semblance to the Virgin Mary. It is this image of women that fueled courtly love, however, this only created a new set of problems for women of the time. R. Howard Bloch says that “love, identified with woman and the senses, is also synonymous with illusion, which makes it the cornerstone of the discourse of misogyny,” which leads to an objectification of women because “if man’s desire for ornament, or for that which is secondary, is analogous to man’s desire for woman, it is because woman is conceived as ornament. She is, by her secondary nature, automatically associated with artifice, decoration” (Bloch).
It is this illusion of women that leads to great inequality in matters of love and marriage. Bloch further comments on the problem of men’s false perceptions of women:
before marriage the senses are seduced and distorted by desire, yet after marriage they are distorted by abuse, or by the tears of lamentation that distort vision. There is, then, no moment at which woman does not trouble vision, distort and destroy the senses. This is because the seducing sophistication of woman is that of illusion itself (Bloch).
One of the most famous literary portrayals of this problem is found in Chaucer’s Wife of Bath. She is a woman who desires “mastrie” over her husbands, who has seduced many men with her beauty and wealth. Daniel Murtagh points out the problems that the Wife of Bath faces:
This imperious creature is simply a male fantasy. Alison, who embodies the fantasy, is finally the fool of time and “age, allas! that al wole enveyme” (D 474). But when a fantasy that nourished hope is [a] lie, men often turn, not to the truth, but to a negative version of the fantasy, which will explain their disappointment without impugning their clarity of vision. Thus the courtly lover becomes the Jealous Husband (Murtagh).
Thus, not only is the Wife of Bath a victim of time, which robs her of the only real power she has (her beauty and sexuality), she has also “been wounded by men, who invented her and who made her most vital qualities the servants of a futile drive for power” (Murtagh). The Wife of Bath embodies many of the fears and desires of men, while also becoming a victim of them, making her a both a frightening and pitiable entity, one that becomes the “patron saint of slandered womanhood” (Murtagh).
Throughout the Middle Ages “we are forced to incorporate conflicting images of woman- Eve and Mary, woman as seducer and redeemer- within the essentially negative field of antifeminism and to deal with a paradox of history: that the periods of greatest misogynistic activity can also be periods of intense woman worship” (Bloch). Regardless of whether women find themselves at one end of the spectrum or the other, one thing remains clear: their inherent femaleness puts them at the center of masculine power struggles, either in the form of those struggles’ cause or prize. Women have become so entangled in the ideals of male society, they are veiled in illusion to the point of being helpless to form an independent identity.
Belanoff, Pat. “The Fall of the Old English Female Poetic Image.” PMLA 104.5 (1989). Web. 1 Nov 2010. [http://www.jstor.org/stable/462574].
Bloch, R. Howard. “Medieval Misogyny.” Representations 20. (1987). Web. 1 Nov 2010.
Karras, Ruth Mazo. “The Regulation of Brothels in Later Medieval England.” Signs 14.2 (1989). Web. 1 Nov 2010. [http://www.jstor.org/stable/3174556].
Murtagh, Daniel M. “Women and Geoffrey Chaucer.” ELH 38.4 (1971). Web. 1 Nov 2010. [http://www.jstor.org/stable/2872261].
During the medieval age, dreaming held a wide range of significance and varying interpretations. For some individuals, it held very little importance, while for others, it was an avenue to discovering the will of God. In literature of the time, the dream vision provided a way for writers to explore fantastical and allegorical themes with greater freedom and creativity.
Depending on the dreamer, individual dreams would have differing significance. Carolyn M. Carty comments, “Medieval man, like modern man, responded to these nocturnal phenomena with both belief and skepticism, but perhaps with not the same proportional emphasis, for the perceived source of the dream is conditioned by the beliefs of a society and by the sophistication of the various classes within that society” (Carty). In some cases, dreams were dismissed as an imbalance of the humors or a bad case of indigestion. Chaucer, via his character Pertelote, states, “Dreams are, God knows, a matter for derision. Visions are generated by repletions and vapours and the body’s bad secretions of humours overabundant in a wight” (Chaucer).
With the growing influence of Christianity, it was no surprise that the Church began to address the matter of dreaming with its own interpretations. Dreams were recorded and studied from all classes, as Isabel Moriera says: “That lay dreams were recorded in religious writings of the era, however, suggests that they held a noteworthy place in Christian religious culture and that the religious elite believed these dreams to be worthy of religious interpretation” (Moriera). The Bible itself acknowledges the ways that God can communicate with human beings through dreams, as illustrated in numerous stories and stated explicitly in the text: “Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets in dreams by the Spirit” (Eph. 3:5). With this biblical basis, dreams took on special religious significance:
“Although in the Middle Ages the possible sources of dreams, including the devil himself, gave church-men cause for some concern, the dream had a special appeal in Christian contexts, for it was one vehicle which God or his emissaries had used in the past and could still use in the present for communicating with man” (Carty).
However, the divine nature of dreams is a risky territory. The Bible also cautions against false dreams sent by the Devil, saying, “believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (I John 4:1). With a dream’s origin and authority being questionable, it was sometimes difficult to determine whether a person’s dream was the product of good or evil. Then, a person ran the risk of seeing divine messages where none were meant:
In that very rare interim moment when a dream’s meaning was not yet fully formed, we can observe the process by which dreams were given a Christian interpretation. By this I refer to that moment when a dream account whose meaning was “neutral” at the outset, or else understood by its dreamer as a purely personal oracle, was pulled into a new orbit of meaning: a dream whose symbols were now interpreted as Christian and thus open to a new, Christian interpretation (Moriera).
These questions of origin and authority created a rich landscape for artists of the time to create thought-provoking works. Dreams allowed authors to explore elements of the supernatural within the story and to comment on the communications that occur between Man and the divine, and the wisdom that can been acquired therein:
If medieval poetry attempted to achieve any one thing more than another, it was Christian wisdom. The poet’s aim, therefore, was more often than not moral and directed specifically at improving the reader by moral instruction. This he found he could best achieve through allegory since figurative expression served the double function of exercising the mind and preventing the vulgarization of truth (Whitman).
This using of written works to convey moral truth was described in great detail by Macrobius. F. H. Whitman summarizes and comments on some of his statements:
Macrobius is very explicit about the function of a dream vision. For him it is moral. It is the best means of instilling in the reader the desire to lead a virtuous life, by revealing to him rewards beyond death. Fables, which include the dream visions of fiction, serve two purposes and therefore, he says, comprise two classes: those which merely please the ear, and those which encourage the reader to good works (Whitman).
The dream vision provided a unique creative avenue for authors to utilize in the explication of the underlying themes in their work. The reason this was such an effective narrative tool was because of the mystery and shifting significance surrounding dreams within medieval culture. The questions surrounding a dream’s significance afforded an author a great deal of play in their narratives, adding new layers to the allegorical setup and attempting to encapsulate the religious and cultural traditions that shaped their world.
Carty, Carolyn. “The Role of Medieval Dream Images in Authenticating Ecclesiastical Construction.” Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 62.1 (1999). Web. 16 Sep 2010.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. “The Canturbury Tales.” The Riverside Chaucer. Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1987
Moriera, Isabel. “Dreams and Divination in Early Medieval Canonical and Narrative Sources: The Question of Clerical Control.” Catholic Historical Review 89.4 (2003). 16 Sep 2010.
The Holy Bible. New International Standard Edition. Nashville, TN: Horton Christian Publishers, 2002.
Whitman, F. H. “Exegesis and Chaucer’s Dream Visions.” Chaucer Review 3.4 (1969). Web. 16 Sep 2010.
The medieval notion of the hero changes drastically from that of the classical period. Up until this time, the hero had been a hard, nigh unstoppable force, out for personal gain and glory. Achilles springs to mind, the fearless Greek hero who fought for the Achaeans at the siege of Troy, whose greatest motivation was the gain of geras, that is, material prizes and enduring glory (The Iliad, 1. 342-355). The medieval hero, on the other hand, was faced with the task of finding balance between earthly fame and spiritual purity.
With the rise of Christianity, medieval knights became bound to a code of honor and aspired to become Christ-like. The model of Christ served as a basis for the virtues that knights tried to preserve, such as loyalty, honesty, and self-sacrifice. Classical heroes often worked for themselves and some were experts at using deception, such as Odysseus, famous for his cunning and trickery. It was Odysseus who thought to use the Trojan Horse to infiltrate the city of Troy (The Odyssey, 4. 270-290). It is unlikely that a medieval hero would ever do something of that nature, as deceiving one’s enemy would be a breach on their morality. Knights tried to meet their foes head on, to show their bravery, such Gawain’s confrontation of the Green Knight. As much as he may want to find a way out of it and though he tries to find some form of protection, Gawain nonetheless follows through with his promise made a year earlier and confronts the Green Knight in the open (Armitage 169).
In addition to glorifying God and their patron saints, medieval knights were also expected to swear fealty to a secular lord. While classical heroes often fought for a certain king, the knight owed his lord a far more devout, selfless service, and his deeds would often be performed for the sake of the king or the king’s honor.
One the largest differences between classical and medieval heroes was their treatment of women. During the classical period, women were treated like property and given out as war prizes, such as Briseis was given to Achilles (The Iliad, 1. 160-170). A woman was just another form of collecting geras. To a medieval knight, however, it was considered noble and courtly to serve a lady, as women were often viewed in relation to Mary, the mother of Christ. A woman could hold great sway over a knight’s actions and even his life, as demonstrated in the relationship between Lancelot and Guinevere. Lancelot undertakes a great quest, with many risks to his life, to save Guinevere, even getting into a cart and risking his knightly reputation (Chretien 190). Upon his arrival, Guinevere sends him away, sending Lancelot into a suicidal madness. This shows the extreme power than ladies had over the knights who served them, a considerably different status than that of the almost right-less classical woman.
The role of the hero changed greatly between the classical and the medieval era. The rise of Christianity changed the notion of the heroic, making it so that a true hero would have to find a balance between serving God and serving his kingdom.
Homer. The Iliad. New York, NY: Penguin Group, 1990. 82-87.
Homer. The Odyssey. New York, NY: Penguin Group, 1996. 138-140.
“A long chain of fate and history stemmed from the first man, who was shown as distinguished by the elevation of his head. Now were shown the ways of fortune, the downtrodden simplicity of the masses, the venerable exaltation of kings. Now poverty begot misery, or overabundance led to dissipation. Most people preserved a median existence between the two extremes. Now a human life was ordained to the toils of war, the pursuit of wisdom, or some other kind of endeavor. The sequence of the ages, introduced by the pure primal state of the Golden Age, could be seen degenerating little by little, to end at last in an age of iron” (Silvestris 116).
This passage is taken from Bernardus Silverstris’ Cosmographia, an allegory that describes the creation of the universe and man. These lines appear directly after Noys has bestowed Nature with the Table of Destiny, something that is “incredibly vast, but finite” (Silvestris 115). This description of the fate of man, I believe, sums up many of the ideas Silvestris has been conveying throughout his work. It echoes the fall of Man as described in Christian theology and comments on the current human condition.
Silvestris notes the “long chain of fate and history” that began with the first man. The Bible names this first man Adam, who, along with his wife Eve, is responsible for the fall of Man and Original Sin. While the Bible describes Adam and Eve as disobedient sinners, Silvestris calls the first man “distinguished”. On one level, he might simply be stating how man is different from the rest of the beasts in the world, yet “distinguished” can also be used to mean someone is respectable. Man is distinguished because he looks skyward. The notion of looking to the heavens indicates a desire for wisdom, knowledge and connection to God.
However, always having one’s eyes turned upwards can lead to potential problems. Aesop’s fable of the Astronomer describes a man who was so preoccupied with watching the stars he fell into a pit and was trapped. A passerby remarked to him, “Hark ye, old fellow, why, in striving to pry into what is in heaven, do you not manage to see what is on earth?” (Kent 44). In that sense, the idea of looking up can be both positive and negative. It can lead to wisdom and connection with the divine, however not without its costs to one’s earthly existence.
Silvestris continues with a comment on the ways of fate; how a select few (“kings”) are chosen for “venerable exaltation”, while the rest (“the masses”) are destined for “downtrodden simplicity” (Silvestris 116). This echoes Boethius’ idea of Fortune as a wheel, which turns the lives of men, granting poverty or prosperity (Boethius 26). A more Christian look at it might simply say, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away” (Job 1:21). Silvestris describes both ends of the spectrum: “poverty begot misery, or overabundance led to dissipation” (Silvestris 116). Neither poverty nor overabundance seems to be a very good thing according to Silvestris, as the prospect of either seems equally bleak, a choice between “misery” and “dissipation”. The majority of people, it seems, have an “existence between the two extremes” (Silvestris 116). Silvestris does not comment one way or the other on the nature of this existence, but given his analysis of both poverty and overabundance, the middle ground is probably not very promising either.
Next, he describes Man’s endeavors after the Fall: “the toils of war, the pursuit of wisdom, or some other kind of endeavor” (Silvestris 116). This indicates that because Man has fallen, he no longer has access to the wisdom that was readily available when he was first created, so must spend his days pursuing it. This lack of wisdom is what plunges mankind into vice and violence, leading to the “toils of war” that Silvestris describes. This leaves the reader to draw the conclusion that if not for Original Sin, then Man could still exist in a state of wisdom, peace and connectivity to God.
Silvestris calls this state “the pure primal state of the Golden Age” (Silvestris 116). This is an interesting word choice on Silvertris’ part. Ordinarily something that is “primal” is associated with a bestial, savage nature; however, Silvestris asserts that to be primal is to be “pure”. It leads to the idea that being close to Nature can lead to being closer to the divine. Ralph Waldo Emerson said it this way: “Man is fallen; nature is erect, and serves as a differential thermometer, detecting the presence or absence of the divine sentiment in man. By fault of our dullness and selfishness, we are looking up to nature” (Emerson). Man looks to Nature because, unlike himself, Nature remains unchanged, still in that “pure primal” state in which Man once existed. In Nature, Man can see the reflections of his lost Eden.
The work continues, describing how the “pure primal state” now “could be seen degenerating little by little, to end at last in an age of iron” (Silvestris 116). It is as if Silvestris is laying out all of history for the reader’s examination and showing that it can only have one possible end, “the age of iron”. This “long chain of fate and history” is the story of Man’s fall from grace and perpetual decline, which ultimately leads to the world falling into the rule of iron, that is, war, division, turmoil, and secular vice. The passage ends on this tragic note, leaving the reader to consider Man’s sinful fate.
Boethius. Consolation of Philosophy. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2001. 26.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “Ralph Waldo Emerson Texts.” Emerson Central. 03/09/2009. Web. 1 Feb 2010. <http://www.emersoncentral.com/nature2.htm>.
Kent, Graeme. Aesop’s Fables. Newmarket, England: Brimax Books Ltd, 1991. 44.
Silvestris, Bernardus. The Cosmographia. New York: Columbia University Press, 1990. 116.