The Butterfly Knight


The Butterfly Knight
Literary Art (Poetry)
An Interpretation of The Parliament of Fowls
Real and Imagined Animals in Medieval Literature (YHU2330)

I brush my way past dandelion roads

Swooning in descent. The earth surges up

As I dance to winds of silvery notes.

He floats in dreams atop a bed of mud;

Enclothed in chainmail rusted by the bite

Of summer rain that stings his fresh cuts sharp.

Nay! A thousand arrows rouse me from flight:

I stand on stained leaves in the shade of Fall,

With honour I shall yet reverse my plight.

But a wandering guest jolts my recall;

These wings of snow in light divine! I freeze;

Rise and relent to timeless evermore.

For long the night eludes our days of seize;

I trudge and hover, folding as I breathe.

Author’s Remarks

Summary of “The Butterfly Knight”

In the poem, the persona is a knight exhausted from long days of adventuring. The poem begins in the dream of the persona where he navigates a surreal landscape through the lenses of a butterfly. He then awakens from the dream to the realities of his plight and resolves to continue his journey with stoic determination. However, a butterfly flits past the persona and recalls his earlier dream. The persona slips into a state of dual consciousness, allowing him to recognise his human insignificance in relation to time and God, where he continues his journey with an added appreciation for his vulnerabilities.

Reimagining Chaucer’s “The Parliament of Fowls”

In “The Parliament of Fowls”, Chaucer uses a dreaming persona to ascribe anthropomorphic qualities to birds. The birds literally form a parliament of different classes like that in a human society, demonstrating human rationality in choosing a suitor for a female eagle, and displaying “lively, raucous, and comical” speech in their arguments. The setting of the dream is crucial, for it allows the persona to understand the birds even though they are at times depicted with animal noises, such as when they “So cryden, ‘Kek, kek!’ ‘Kukkow!’ ‘Quek, quek!’ hye” (Line 499). As the simultaneous creator and observer of the dream, the persona ascribes human thought and speech to the birds. In my creative project, I aim to adopt the dream setting not for the same purpose of anthropomorphism, but to unsettle the notions of identity itself. In a tale recounted in Zhuangzi, the philosopher dreams of being a butterfly, and awakes from the dream wondering if he had dreamed of being a butterfly as a man, or if he is a butterfly presently dreaming of being a man. Like Zhuangzi’s tale, I adopt a dream landscape for the persona himself to adopt the consciousness of an animal. Accordingly, while Chaucer depicts the love between the birds in an attempt to match a human understanding of love to non-human beings, I depict love in the form of self-reconciliation where the persona learns to embrace a consciousness that takes on both human and animal qualities. 

Notably, as Michael Warren argues in Birds in Medieval English Poetry: Metaphors, Realities, Transformations, a divine quality is attributed to winged creatures who occupy an aerial space “mankind is denied” (12), and whose flight makes them “incorporeal” (12), as their motion is incomprehensible to the wingless human. In Chaucer’s poem, the birds talk about love in the Garden of Nature, an allusion perhaps to the Garden of Eden, and they interact with the goddesses Nature and Venus as though they themselves are divine beings, while the persona is only granted a presence there as an observer by virtue of his dream. Furthermore, the female eagle is allowed to “control the time and manner of her union with her male counterpart” (Chaucer 96), demonstrating a power that supersedes time itself. In my poem, I will emphasise the aerial and unpredictable quality of the butterfly’s movement, where it serves as a divine messenger that reminds the human persona of his subjection to a fast-flowing and linear temporality.

For this creative project, I have endeavoured to write poetry because the poetic form allows for an interweaving of distinct concepts via dynamic imagery, rhythm, rhyme, and diction. This allows concepts to be experienced rather than told, to be interpreted rather than displayed, allowing for an appreciation of their interconnectedness that may be lost in a more explicit analysis. Notably, Chaucer’s poem is written in rhyme royal, where the constant rhyme in narration reinforces the dream setting of the poem and the lyrical quality of birdsong. However, I intend to write a terza rima sonnet. The sonnet expresses self-reconciliation, while the terza rima allows for changing aspects of the persona’s consciousness to be depicted through each tercet. Furthermore, the tercets flow in a staggered rhyme scheme to indicate the subtle connections between seemingly discrete components of human and animal consciousness, of dreams and the real world. The terza rima sonnet also serves as a challenge to follow strict metre and rhyme. Ultimately, I aim to demonstrate that we cannot clearly distinguish human consciousness from that of an animal, and that an animal consciousness may grant perspectives that enrich human values.

Arguments Embedded in “The Butterfly Knight”

In the first tercet, I imagined the persona moving through the lenses of a butterfly, where he is airborne and travels with an uncertain, almost drunken quality conveyed by “swooning in descent”. To a butterfly, the floating heads of dandelions would seem sizeable and form an entire landscape such that the persona “[brushes]” past “dandelion roads” instead of a dirt part, the imagery evoking softness in the movement and depicting the directionless path of nature compared to man-made roads. I have further employed enjambments to produce a sense of continuous motion, and the phrase “surges up” deviates from an otherwise iambic pentameter to emphasise the erratic sense of the earth rising to greet the persona’s descent. As a butterfly, the persona is graceful and unshackled by nature.

The second tercet depicts the persona from an omniscient narrator’s perspective, where the personal pronouns are exchanged for third person pronouns for the only time in the poem. The persona is depicted to be sleeping in reality, where he “floats” in dreams with a sense of lightness that is juxtaposed by his body weighing into the mud and the heaviness of his armour that “[enclothes]” him like a steel trap. Nature is presented as a domesticating rather than liberating force, as the mud serves as the persona’s bed and the rain does not bring relief but “stings his fresh cuts sharp”. 

The third tercet begins with a sharp call of anguish from the persona, marking the switch back to persona’s perspective when he awakens and realises his plight. The phrase “from flight” threatens to break away from the iambic pentameter, but may be forcefully curbed by the punctuation while the next line begins with the stress on “I stand”, marking the persona’s assertion of his human identity over animal. The tercet emphasises the persona’s preoccupation with chivalry, where he displays his valour in the face of adversity by romanticising the rain to be “arrows” and himself to stand upon blood-stained leaves.

Yet in the fourth tercet, the persona encounters a butterfly with wings pure like the “snow”, its whiteness made further “divine” by daylight. This stuns the persona in his enthralment to a dual consciousness, as simultaneously a motionless knight and the external butterfly that “[rises]” before him and “[relents]” the human quest. Still in the butterfly’s consciousness, the persona embraces a “timeless evermore”, a divine serenity where the human understanding of linear temporality does not apply. Notably, both the knight and the butterfly are never explicitly mentioned in the poem except for in the title; who is the butterfly and who is the knight thus remains an open question.

Throughout the poem, I attempted to depict seasonal imagery via the dandelions of spring, the “summer rain”, the Fall-coloured leaves, and snowy wings of the butterfly that makes the persona “freeze”. This pitches the fast-flowing linear narrative of time against the “timeless evermore” of divinity as represented by the butterfly. Through the butterfly, the persona realises in the concluding couplet that time slips by regardless of the speed of his journey, and the “night” –– symbolising one’s unconscious, animalistic instincts –– cannot be captured by a performative quest for chivalric honour. The persona thus trudges onwards while hovering without direction; he folds as a human body crumbles or like a pair of wings taking flight, where strength is derived from vulnerability, as one inhales a breath.


Chaucer, Geoffrey. “The Parliament of Fowls.” Dream Visions and Other Poems, edited by Kathryn L Lynch, W.W. Norton, 2006, pp. 93-116.

Warren, Michael. “Introduction.” Birds in Medieval English Poetry: Metaphors, Realities, Transformations, Boydell & Brewer, 2018, pp. 1–23.


[Featured Image]

The Herdsman and Yvain as a Madman


The Herdsman and Yvain as a Madman
Literary Art
An Interpretation of Yvain, the Knight of the Lion
Real and Imagined Animals in Medieval Literature (YHU2330)

When it’s near sunset, it’s time I go into the woods. I make sure I take my bow and five hunting arrows. Five, no more, no less. Father always told me five is the lucky number because so many architects have followed the pentagon shape for their architecture. As long as the hunting arrows are long and sharp enough, there is nothing to worry about.

Mother says I am still too young to hunt properly. She used to forbid me from going into the woods on my own. But Father somehow convinced her that one is never too young to pursue his dreams. He knows about my dream and respects it. He knows I want to become a knight.

Underneath the seeping light of sunset, I walk along the narrow path in the woods. My eyes and ears wide open, I look around. Today’s goal is to catch a deer; an enormous one. Just like how that cool knight threw his lance towards the animal yesterday, piercing the blade right into its flesh and nailing it to the ground. I was watching the whole process behind the bushes, afraid I’d interrupt his craftmanship. Yes, anyone who’d see the graceful way the knight decapitated the deer would see it as craftmanship. I wished I had the courage to approach him and ask him to take me as his apprentice. Even if I am not born of nobility, if he saw how badly I wanted to become a knight, he’d understand and teach me his skills. I truly dream of becoming a knight. A graceful master of the hunt, a refined horse rider, a true knight. Dressed in glittery silver helmet and armor, I long to know what it feels like to wear those.

As usual, I ended up hiding in the bushes, unable to come out, regretfully watching the knight gracefully hop on his horse and leave with the head of the deer.

And here I am now, without a horse, but pretending I am riding one, holding my bow high, and running deeper and deeper into the woods. It is getting darker, the skies gradually covered in black clouds, the wind whistling like the cries of a mad woman. I slow down. I look ahead. All I see is an endless narrow path without any traces of deer or rabbits or even birds. All I hear is the chirps of crickets hiding under the leaves. I put down my bow in silent dread.

No, I am not afraid. If I were to become a knight, it would be ridiculous to fear this situation. As if I am encountering a giant or devils or a dragon! How laughable.

But deep down, I know exactly what I fear. This darkness, this wind, this silence, and my sheer isolation in these woods… They all remind me of my last encounter with a terrifying creature a few days ago when I attempted to ‘conquer’ the unknown regions of the forest.


It was a forest I had never visited, and it was the first time I got lost. I kept running beneath the moonlight, sweating and wheezing heavily, the sight of animals no longer holding my interest. If only I had a horse, like a proper knight! Then somehow, I reached a clearing in the middle of the woods, where a lowborn creature was sitting on a tree stump. It was staring deeply into my eyes, and I froze in place. It looked like a man, but it also didn’t. Those inexplicably big ears, those hairy arms and legs, the wild clothes-like garment made of animal skin… I suddenly remembered the story Father told me once, about a herdsman who resided in the forest on his own, away from civilization. This man-like creature fitted Father’s descriptions perfectly. Father said herdsmen are one of the ugliest creatures you could find in this world. I wasn’t sure what to think once I faced the creature. It’s true that every single bit of his face was definitely huge, impossibly huge yet strangely sustaining an almost human face, and it took me a while to realize I’d been staring at the creature for a long while in silence. In inexplicable, repulsive intrigue.

The herdsman in front of me stood up, took a few steps forward, and very surprisingly spoke in my language. I don’t remember the exact phrasings. They were just…Surprisingly sophisticated enough, too sophisticated for a wild man to utter. All I remember is that he asked me what I was doing there, in his territory. He warned me that anyone approaching the herd he guarded would be killed at once. As the lord of his animals, he was in command. I plainly told him I was not interested in his animals, still overwhelmed by merely watching and listening to this seventeen-feet black moor talk in the same way Father tells me bedtime stories. The herdsman looked at me curiously, demanding why then I carried a bow and arrow. I lied that I always carried weapons to defend myself. The herdsman laughed, for a boy like me could barely even make use of such weapons against the many creatures lurking in this forest. Usually, I would get offended and attack whoever insulted my ego. But I remained silent, unable to keep my focus on what he was now saying, unable to rid the thousands of questions in my head.

How did he learn our language while being isolated in this forest amongst wild animals?

How is he able to pronounce words gracefully like the way a knight would, despite his wild teeth and split jaws?

How is it even possible? How can he talk like this? Then why is he here, almost naked, hairy, looking so wild?

These were too much for me. In spite of myself, I ended up running away from the herdsman, almost for my life. I knew he wasn’t going to attack me. But I just ran with no direction. I just ran away from this contaminating insanity.


That day, as I kept running forward, I somehow managed to get out of the forest and reach home safely. I swore I’d never step foot into that crazy forest again.

And here I am now, recognizing a similar scenery that led me to that talking hairy creature. I remain still for a while, in the middle of the woods.

Should I go back? Or should I walk further, like a proper knight? If I want to become a knight, I must be more courageous than this, after all. I continue my path.

But then something catches my attention in the far distance, right ahead of me. A kind of silhouette wandering aimlessly. It’s not walking straight, clearly. From its body posture, it looks like…A man’s silhouette. A tall one. Except that it reminds me of a person who’s about to collapse any moment as he walks, like a deeply fatigued or hungered man.

He’s coming towards me. Slow, walking in a zigzag, but still towards me. Maybe he needs help. Maybe making one step is already a big toll on him. I pace forward, shouting at him to stay there and wait for me.

Only to realize something is off about that man. I pause. I swallow a scream. That guy is not wearing any clothes. Like, all naked. And he is still coming towards me.

My legs deeply planted in place, all I can do is watch this naked man approach me slowly. He is chewing on something red, something giving off a pungent smell of blood. Flesh. Animal flesh. Raw flesh.

I stare at the lividness of his naked body. Its sheer bareness oppresses me, disgusts me, suffocates me more than the hairiness of the herdsman I encountered. Yet it’s a normal human body. A normal human face looking from the outside. Not disfigured nor abnormally huge nor abnormally small. But from how he meets my gaze, his vacant eyes tell me I should run away.

And I am too late. Like a wild animal, the man roars. He jumps at me, all of a sudden. He pushes me down to the ground. No time for me to scream for help. My bow and arrow slip off my hands. I try reaching for them, but the naked man nails my shoulders and torso against the ground. I cannot move. I cannot scream. His face is only a few inches away, the bits of raw flesh covering his mouth, he groans like a hungry lion.

I close my eyes, waiting for his teeth to bite off my skin. Then I feel his hands off my shoulders, sensing his body weight lifting from my trembling torso.

As I open my eyes, I see him already running off. He is carrying off a bow and a set of five arrows. My bow and arrows. He stole them from me. At last, I manage to muster up my voice. I call back the man, I demand him to return my weapons.

Surprisingly (or not), the naked man turns around, as if he understands my language. Does he? Does he not? I cannot tell from his expressionless face.

Again, I demand him to return them to me. I demand who he is. But the man just stands there, without a word, except mumbling incoherent sounds. With one last glare, he holds tightly onto my beloved bow and arrow, and hurriedly disappears into the bushes. No hint of him coming back.

I remain on the ground, unable to stand. Shaking, I merely stare at where the man stood for the last time. Who in the heavens was that man? A herdsman, too? No way. His skin was white and bare and as smooth as mine. Aside from him not wearing clothes, eating raw meat, unable to properly speak… He was just a man. But not like me.

Gradually, I start to remember Father mentioning some rumors about a knight who’s missing for days. A knight whose name was something along the lines of Ivan or Yvain. Father said he was one of the noblest knights you could find in this nation. One of the bravest and most capable. And it was that knight who was seen running into the woods, shouting like a madman, and disappearing without traces. I laugh at my ridiculous thoughts. How absurd to even assume such a noble knight is that naked man I just saw, acting like a savage. Surely a knight would never become a savage like him.

Or… would he? I start to wonder, forgetting how to breathe. What if the helmets and the armor were hiding something as oppressive as what I just saw now? What if knights actually wear them not to just protect themselves but hide such monstrosities? No way. Those brave and gracious knights, those dream figures. No way their nakedness would look… somewhat more terrifying than the herdsman himself.

After all, knights are eloquent. They are sophisticated. That naked man cannot even speak a word. And yet even that herdsman creature can! That confirms he is not Yvain.

I manage to stand up and shakily take a few steps towards home.

He is not a knight, I keep saying to myself. He is not.

I am now weaponless, vulnerable, unable to even defend myself. My dream is just a dream in the end. But not just because I lost so disgracefully against that savage man.

Because deep down, I just can’t shake the thought that he is actually a knight. From the way he stole my weapons. From the way he carried them. The way a knight would carry.

I will never become a knight. I am not like him. Not like him at all.

Author’s Remarks

This is a contemporary written adaptation of two key scenes from Yvain, The Knight of the Lion by Chretien de Troyes: the scene of the Herdsman and especially that of Yvain’s madness. I have extracted the furtive mentioning of “a boy carrying a bow and five hunting arrows” (2816-2817) who encounters Yvain as a madman and gets his weapons taken away by this insane figure. I decided to incorporate this boy’s point of view to retell more vividly this scene of encounter and add a hypothetical premise of him also encountering the Herdsman, not only because I found the scene of boy-Yvain-encounter underdeveloped, but also because he seemed like a coherent third party through whom I could compare the manifestation of the abject between the Herdsman and Yvain as a madman. Here and throughout this written adaptation, I refer to Karl Steel’s idea that “abjection attempts to dissociate the most repulsive aspects of a subject’s self from the subject by dumping them onto some derided other” (157). By using the boy’s particular standpoint, which does not belong to chivalric culture yet is drawn to it, I aim to explore how the Herdsman and Yvain can complicate Steel’s idea of abjection. While the narrative explicitly presents the Herdsman as a figure of grotesque bodily excess, my written adaptation argues that his capacity for spoken words, that is, his linguistic excess that is incongruently transposed onto his animal-like body, should not be taken for granted. This buried significance of the Herdsman’s capacity to use language becomes more apparent alongside Yvain’s loss of linguistic capacity in his state of madness. For instance, Yvain’s figure constitutes a peculiar kind of abjection not through excess but through scarcity, in terms of his nakedness, his common sense, and his language. Through my written adaptation, I argue that the Herdsman’s bodily and linguistic excess as abjection do not simply achieve “[dissociation] from the repulsive aspects of the subject from the subject” (Steel 157), but counterintuitively underscore the difficulty in achieving an invulnerable figure who has nothing to abject. On the other hand, scarcity in Yvain ―removing the “constitutive excess of chivalry” (158) through sheer nakedness and loss of common sense and language― more vividly reflects anxieties towards the possible degeneration of the knightly figure beyond his social role as a knight, symbolized by the removal of his concealing armor.

To begin with, I decided to set the boy as a peasant dreaming to become a knight for several reasons: on the one hand, the plain mentioning in Chretien’s text of “a boy” suggests he is not from the nobility; on the other hand, setting the boy as someone who does not belong to yet admires chivalric culture allowed me to explore these issues beyond the traditional chivalric sphere. In the boy’s recollection of his encounter, I aligned his observation of the Herdsman’s disproportionate body parts with the original text’s insistence on the massiveness of each individual part of his face (290-308). This was to reaffirm the transgressive aspect of the Herdsman’s body as grotesque excess through “exaggeration that is related to grotesque forms of representation rel[ying] on the transgression and disharmony of the entire frame, not just its parts” (Edwards and Graulund 68). I express this disharmony through the boy’s description of the Herdsman’s facial parts as “impossibly huge yet strangely sustaining an almost human face,” suggesting the “violation of natural boundaries” that occurs between the excessive size of the parts and the basic components of a human face.

More importantly, the boy transposes the Herdsman’s transgressive appearance onto his capacity to speak, and I tried to insist on the peculiarity of this combination of exaggerated body and ordinary speech with the boy’s disbelief. While Steel argues that the Herdsman “cannot comprehend the chivalric jargon, and compounds his ignorance by misidentifying the gold of the magic basin as iron, mistaking a noble substance for a base one” (155), the very fact that the Herdsman can speak their language is taken for granted, and yet it is a major factor in Chretien’s text that differentiates madness from sanity. Insofar as Calgrenant’s first instinct is to assume the Herdsman has “no brain to speak with, nor a tongue” (Chretien 326), it seems that the Herdsman’s speech capacity is already a transgression of his status as a wild man whose body parts are “hideously ugly” (290) and animal-like. I express this transgression by rooting the boy’s disbelief in the fact that human speech comes out of a disproportionate body, which implicitly suggests language is excessive to this wild man figure. The boy’s questioning “why is he here, almost naked, hairy, looking so wild?” alludes to his automatic association of language with civilization, i.e., the world outside wilderness.

In relation to Steel’s argument, the linguistic excess of the Herdsman reties the link between the Herdsman and the ‘civilized’ subject that Calogrenant attempted to sever through his insistence on the wild man’s grotesque bodily excess. Through the boy’s differing approach, I hope to suggest that the bodily and linguistic excess of the Herdsman disrupts the process of abjection: the Herdsman figure does not allow the subject to fully dissociate its repulsive aspects from itself and project them onto a derided Other. No matter how dissociated the Herdsman’s body is from the chivalric subject, as long as this abjected body is juxtaposed with linguistic excess and a common language is shared between the Herdsman and more ‘civilized’ subjects like Calgrenant and the boy, the chivalric subject cannot easily “present themselves posto facto as never having needed to abject anything” (157).

I also argue through my written piece that scarcity as well as excess seems to constitute “a sign of shame rather than a sign of simple difference” (Steel 157). I have chosen to flesh out the oppressive nakedness of Yvain’s body (3028) to highlight the peculiarity of Yvain’s case compared to that of the Herdsman: the description of Yvain’s nakedness stylistically contrasts with the grotesque, disproportionate, hairy and animal-like features of the Herdsman’s body, yet in Yvain’s case the simple removal of clothing renders his body into mere “flesh” that appears repulsive to those who see it (2988). I tried to highlight this paradoxical repulsiveness that derives from removing rather than adding by writing the boy’s internal monologue, which explicitly expresses disgust and fear at the sight of nakedness. This scarcity of human flesh parallels that of food (meat) that Yvain consumes as a madman: Chretien describes how “he ate and he drank, his meat unsalted, and no pepper” (2879-2880). The contrast with his ordinary behavior, in which he “took no pleasure eating [meat] without bread or wine or salt” (3468-3469), highlighting alimentary scarcity as a distinguishing factor between savage and human. Hence, in my written piece I have made Yvain eat raw meat as in the original text, while insisting on the boy’s disbelief at seeing a man eating in such a savage manner.

Lastly, Yvain’s scarcity contrasts not only with the Herdsman’s excessive physical features and food consumption but also his linguistic excess: just as Chretien’s text repeatedly describes Yvain’s loss of senses and speech that crystallize his madman-like action (2805, 2834), my written piece aims to reinforce the text’s preoccupation with scarcity in language as a symbolic figure of what Steel identifies as a “desublimated manifestation of the traits lurking at the heart of chivalric selfhood” (157). The boy comments on the possibility of attempting to relieve these anxieties by speculating whether the armor and helmet that a knight wears are an opaque, concealing apparatus of what chivalric selfhood fears and denies. By exaggerating his admiration towards knighthood (insisting on gracefulness and the skills of hunting and horse riding), I hoped to amplify the boy’s anxieties towards this denied, degenerated, desublimated self under the mask of ‘civilized’ codes, to the extent that the boy dissociates himself from Yvain’s repulsive aspects by telling himself repeatedly that he is not like Yvain.


De Troyes, Chretien. Yvain The Knight of the Lion. Translated by Burton Raffel, Yale University Press, 1987.

Edwards, Justin, and Rune Graulund. Grotesque. Routledge, 2013.

Steel, Karl. “The Wild Herdsman.” How to Make a Human: Animals and Violence in the Middle Ages. Ohio State University Press, 2011, pp. 151-162.


[Featured Image]

Creative Diagrams of Time in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight


Creative Diagrams of Time in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Conceptual Diagram
An Interpretation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Real and Imagined Animals in Medieval Literature (YHU2330)

Artist’s Remarks

Reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, I was struck by the ways in which various formulations of time are layered on top of each other. While the entire narrative is set during the winter months, there is a sense that all the seasons of the year are contained within the four sections of the narrative. Related to this is the fact that the winter setting is highly symbolic, connoting a period before rebirth (the New Year appears as a frequent marker of Gawain’s mapping out of time in his head) that necessitates a death that can be understood as a kind of purging (after the Gawain’s repentance of his sins, the Green Knight announces, “I declare you purged” (Armitage, line 2393)). Here, I also draw upon Clark and Wasserman’s characterization of the poem as one that surrounds themes of apocalypse—Gawain here becomes a character who can redeem humanity through his virtue within a humanity that is increasingly descending toward immorality (Clark and Wasserman, 6). Yet, when set against various characterizations of time as cyclical (such as the Gawain-poet’s condensed overview of the changing of the seasons in Fitt 2), both ideas of apocalypse and seasonal change begin to enter the symbolic realm, opening up the possibility of understanding the way that various temporal changes hold meaning in relation to one another. From this, the overlapping temporalities in the poem: seasonal, historical, liturgical, as well as individual, begin to create tensions and unexpected parallels with one another.

This was particularly fascinating to me, because then the wintry setting of the poem can be interpreted as symbolic in itself, but also as one that can be set aside in favor of a characterization of the poem as representing the different seasons (and more broadly, different stages of the calendar year) within the couple of days during which the poem takes place. I do not think it is a coincidence that the poem is split into four sections, reflecting the four seasons, and the thematic elements of each section can be loosely attributed to the symbolic qualities of the seasons.

In order to do this, I characterized each Fitt by the major event that takes place in each: The Challenge in Fitt 1, The Journey in Fitt 2, The Hunt in Fitt 3, and The Judgment in Fitt 4. The clear narrative progression of the poem can be mapped onto various symbolic changes that come with time, such as seasonal changes. Taking a look at the Gawain-poet’s characterization of the seasons in Fitt 2, one can find particular resonances between the overarching themes that characterize the seasons with the events that take place in each Fitt. I see them as:

  • Fitt 1 (The Challenge): Winter
    • An end, death, feasting.
  • Fitt 2 (The Journey): Spring
    • Rebirth, a beginning.
  • Fitt 3 (The Hunt): Summer
    • Labor, leisure, and courtly love.
  • Fitt 4 (The Judgment): Autumn
    • Harvesting, reaping what one has sown.

These associations also draw from the tradition of formulating the calendar through the labor of the year—this genre of calendar typically called the Labours of the Months, where each month is associated with a particular activity. Laumonier offers more insight into the Labours of the Months:

The Labours of the Months (Image Source: Laumonier)

“The winter months, starting with January, usually depicted indoor scenes (feasting, keeping warm by the fire, etc.). The fate of February depended on local weather. At the beginning of spring, work began outside to prepare the fields and trees. At the height of spring, usually in April and May, the calendar marked a pause to celebrate the rejuvenation of nature with scenes of leisure, love, and blooming flowers. From June to August, artists painted peasants hard at work, raking hay, reaping wheat, and threshing grain. In September, the scenery changed, the summer activities giving way to winemaking, usually followed by plowing and sowing. The last two months of the calendar year were devoted to fattening and killing boars and pigs, eaten during the feasting month of January. The cycle then started again undisturbed.” (Laumonier, n.p.)

However, it is important to note that the above ascriptions between the Fitts and the seasons are slippery—in some sense, one can find hints of each season in each Fitt (I initially started with ascribing Spring to Fitt 1, for example).

Another interesting way to associate the Fitts is through scaling time down to the meter of a single day. I found it intriguing that there are various moments within the poem where the Gawain-poet spends much time describing the time of day—dawns, dusks, and the movements of the sun figure into the atmospheric texture of the poem. Upon consideration, patterns within the Fitts emerge, such as the fact that Fitt 2 is characterized by the “long dark nights unloved and alone” (Armitage, line 693) that Gawain spends in the wilderness, while Fitt 3 is characterized by dawn/morning-time, given the lengthy scenes and descriptions of Bertilak awaking in the early morning to embark on his hunt while his wife wakes a still-asleep Gawain in order to spend time with him. Another set of associations is presented when looking through the lens of one day:

  • Fitt 1 (The Challenge): Evening
  • Fitt 2 (The Journey): Dusk
  • Fitt 3 (The Hunt): Dawn
  • Fitt 4 (The Judgment): Afternoon

Such temporalities are only further complicated by the additional presence of liturgical time in the poem, Christmas, All-Saints Day, and Lent marking time as well as divine symbolism to the events of the poem. When considering the connotations and the cosmological events that mark the liturgical calendar, other associations arise. Lent, the 40-day period of fasting and praying, for instance, can most clearly be associated with Fitt 2, where Gawain enters the icy wilderness and finds little to no food (an instance that could be understood as a representation of fasting). It is also fitting here that Gawain is only able to escape this period through the act of prayer—Bertilak’s castle only appears after Gawain prays for salvation from God.

  • Fitt 1 (The Challenge): Christmas and the New Year
  • Fitt 2 (The Journey): Lent
  • Fitt 3 (The Hunt): Ordinary Time?
  • Fitt 4 (The Judgment): Advent

Finally, other kinds of time that are presented as backdrops to the narrative can produce further resonances. Animal temporalities, for example, can be excavated in the poem. In Fitt 3, for example, Bertilak’s hunt contains an intriguingly ecological perspective of time and seasonal change in the hunting troop’s and Gawain’s recognition of hunting seasons—essentially placing the characters within an ecological net where the sustainable maintenance of animal populations appears in the narrative as an animal temporality which exists alongside the other modes of time presented in the poem.

Thus, for my creative project, I have attempted to place the various temporalities in the poem alongside one another, creating a kind of mapping where the representations of time in and of the narrative can be viewed clearly in relation to one another. I chose to represent time through diagrams that combine logical and rational progressions of time with creative representations to keep with the Gawain-poet’s preoccupation with mathematics and geometry in the poem, presenting a matrix of understanding time in the poem that could accompany its reading and offer points of discovery for readers.

Two diagrams were created: a diagram of various types of seasons and years that can be found in the poem, and a quadrisected timeline of the poem itself. My hope is that the timelines be considered alongside the poem and subsequently annotated and built upon by readers, so as to create an ever-growing instantiation of time in this mysterious and elusive poem.


Armitage, Simon. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. W.W. Norton, 2008.

Calkins, Robert G. Illuminated Books of the Middle Ages, mp 246, Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1983

Clark, S. L., and Julian N. Wasserman. “The Passing of the Seasons and the Apocalyptic in ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.’” South Central Review, vol. 3, no. 1, 1986, pp. 5–22. JSTOR, Accessed 1 May 2023.

Laumonier, Lucie. “Medieval Calendars and the Labours of the Months.”, 16 July 2022, Accessed 30 Apr. 2023.

Mclean, Will. “A Commonplace Book: Medieval Hunting Seasons.” A Commonplace Book, 4 Sept. 2015, Accessed 30 Apr. 2023.

Wikipedia Contributors. “Liturgical Year.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 23 Oct. 2019,

Dance of Gawain’s Humanity and Animality


Dance of Gawain’s Humanity and Animality
Performing Art (Dance)
An Interpretation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Real and Imagined Animals in Medieval Literature (YHU2330)

Unfortunately, the quality of this video has been reduced due to site limitations on file size. To watch this video at a higher resolution, please click on the following link:

Dance of Gawain’s Humanity and Animality – MIRA HO (’25)

Artist’s Remarks

I have chosen to adapt the poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight into a dance piece to explore the tension between humanity and animality in the portrayal of Gawain’s character. When the poem commences, Gawain appears as the epitome of chivalry and courtly grace that a perfect knight should embody. However, as his next encounter with the Green Knight nears and Gawain becomes increasingly conscious of his mortality, we see the layers of his humanity unfold, revealing the animality that humans often wish to suppress.

Gawain is initially portrayed as perfect example of a chivalric knight and the Arthurian ideal. When the Green Knight first enters the court and poses a challenge, Gawain is the first one to accept, and does so with extreme politeness and modesty. As he asks for permission to leave the Queen’s side, Gawain’s speech is elaborate and strenuously deferential: “should you call me, courteous lord to rise from my seat and stand at your side, politely take leave of my place at the table and quit without causing offence to my queen, then I would come to your counsel before this great court” (343-7). It is apparent that he takes great pains to respectfully take King Arthur’s place in the challenge and not call attention to himself. This display of courtesy and bravery is heightened by the symbolic significance of the five-pointed star painted on his shield. In the original text, the word “poyntez” is used, a clever play on words, as it can mean both “points” and “virtues.” The five points of the star can represent the five virtues that Gawain upholds, which include generosity, purity and courtesy. The pentangle is painted with a single line, giving the star the appearance of an endless knot. As all points of the star are linked, the knot, or star, fails if any part is missing, implying that perfection is necessary. This is significant as it places Gawain on an impossible pedestal. The painting of Virgin Mary next to the pentangle further highlights the high moral standard Gawain is expected to uphold.

This character analysis was portrayed in my dance piece from 00:00 to 00:48. I chose to choreograph a ballet sequence for this segment to mimic the courtly and flawless portrayal of Gawain. The ballet dance genre originates from court dance and hence physically embodies elements of the stiff posture and grace that is associated with Gawain’s courtly portrayal. The beginning of the dance mirrors the polite introduction Gawain makes as he offers to take Arthur’s place in the challenge. I begin kneeling and rise gracefully with my weight on one foot in a show of respect and poise. The pas de bourrée that follows between 00:11 and 00:13 is a movement that emphasizes openness, and mirrors Gawain’s generous offering. This is followed by an elaborate set of battement tendus between 00:18 and 00:23. Here, my intricate leg movements mirror Gawain’s elaborate speech. It was important that I highlighted this in a significant way throughout the first segment of the dance, as his complex sentence structures and courtly mannerisms are admired by others, and are seen as a manifestation of his chivalry. Most importantly, these behaviors set him apart from the animals that he encounters later in the poem, and clearly highlight his humanity. These dance steps build up to a series of grande battements between 00:24 and 00:32. These high kicks are powerful and high in energy. The movements command attention, just as Gawain seems to draw the eyes of others with his chivalric displays and reputation. My choice to use ballet in this segment is particularly significant because of the precision ballet technique requires. In ballet, all steps are clearly defined, and my precise movements physically symbolize the high moral standard that Gawain is held to.

The scene where Gawain enters the Green Chapel marks a turning point in his character development. For the first time, the tensions between his humanity and animality emerge. The Green Chapel is described as a “wild place; no sign of a settlement anywhere to be seen but heady heights to both halves of the valley” (2164-5). The Green Chapel is not the civilized building Gawain expects but an empty barrow “set with saber-toothed stones” (2166). Gawain interprets the sharp structures and emptiness of the barrow as haunted and cursed, attempting to use human methods to rationalize the animal fear that he is experiencing. Clinging to his Christian, human beliefs instead of succumbing to his natural instincts highlights the breaking down of the barrier between his identity as a human and an animal.

This tension between Gawain’s humanity and animality is highlighted with a change in dance genre from classical ballet to neo-classical ballet. Neo-classical ballet typically aims to challenge traditional ballet technique, for instance, by keeping the feet parallel instead of turned-out. In my dance piece, I  begin with the sharp elbow and torso contraction at 00:49. The sharp, repetitive movements that follow mimic Gawain’s jarred reaction to the Green Chapel and its apparent hauntedness. My shaking, outreached hand and cautious steps backwards from 01:11 to 01:19  physically embody the chills Gawain is experiencing. Yet throughout this dance segment, I continuously look around the room, often in the opposite direction from that which my body is traveling. This represents Gawain’s attempt to deny his instinctual fear and instead attempt to rationalize the eerie feeling he is experiencing.  

The final meeting between Gawain and the Green Knight reveals Gawain’s corporeality, as in the face of his death he is forced to let go of the strict human virtues he has held himself to throughout the poem. The Green Knight’s auditory introduction mimics the signals a wild animal may notice when a predator is nearby. As Gawain stands alone in the desolate barrow, he hears a “blood-chilling noise” that “cannoned through the cliffs as if they might crack, like the scream of a scythe being ground on a stone” (2200-2). The sibilance and alliteration of the “c” sound in these two lines is unnerving and metallic, suggesting the proximity of a physical threat. This effect creates a prey and predator dynamic, placing Gawain in a position of vulnerability and fear, a stark contrast to his initial introduction as chivalric and brave. As the Green Knight continues to draw out Gawain’s anticipated deathblow, Gawain’s mortality and physical helplessness become increasingly clear. When the Green Knight finally strikes Gawain, the blow is undoubtedly ‘bodily’ (Yamamoto 130). The visual image of Gawain’s blood spurting on to the ground ironically mirrors the hunting scene that occurs outside the castle earlier in the poem. In this moment, Gawain is no different from a hunted deer, an animal body that we humans continuously attempt to distinguish ourselves from, with activities such as hunting. The presence of the otherworldly Green Knight, who has the ability to place his own severed head back on his shoulders, highlights the similarities between Gawain’s mortal body and that of an animal.

Gawain’s realization of his own animality is shown with a transition into a contemporary dance segment. Contemporary dance is often used to showcase raw emotions, as there are no restrictions on movements. The flowy quality of my movements and the inclusion of multiple turns, such as at 02:37 and 02:41, represent Gawain leaning into his instinctual fear. During the final segment of the dance, my movements begin to lower in height, and eventually floorwork is incorporated, such as between 01:51 and 02:30. This acts as a contrast to the upright, standing ballet movement at the beginning of the dance piece, mirroring the contrast between Gawain’s portrayal as a knightly ideal at the beginning of the poem and his succumbing to his animal instincts at this point in the poem. The moment of stillness where I lie flat on my back in a starfish shape at 02:16 is another allusion to this contrast. The starfish shape is reminiscent of the five-point star of virtues that Gawain has been trying to hold himself to throughout the poem, yet this position also suggests complete vulnerability in a fight, where one’s front is entirely undefended and left open for attack. My struggle in rising from this position can be interpreted both as Gawain’s struggle to adhere to the pentangle of virtues, or as the base panic he experiences in his vulnerable position, at the mercy of the Green Knight. These two possible interpretations highlight the constant tension between Gawain’s humanity and animality throughout the poem. The circle formed as I move across the space between 02:37 and 03:14 is an allusion to Gawain’s resemblance to prey being circled and chased by a predator.

The final sequence in this piece between 03:04 and 03:40 is an exploratory improvisation. My movements are not choreographed; instead, they are guided by the spontaneous exploration of my own body. In particular, I am using my hands to manipulate different parts of my body, such as my knees, upper arms, and head. As my movements are not pre-calculated, there is a natural quality to them. Using my own hands to manipulate my body also shows a hyper awareness of my own physical body, reminiscent of Gawain’s growing realization of his own mortality. The fade into a blackout as my exploratory improvisation continues communicates that Gawain’s moral self-discovery has just begun, even as the poem comes to an end.


Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.  Translated by Simon Armitage, London: W.W. Norton & Co., 2007.

Yamamoto, Dorothy. “Bodies in the Hunt”.  The Boundaries of the Human in Medieval English Literature, Oxford University Press, 2000, pp. 99–13.

A Series of Blacked Out Poems from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight


A Series of Blacked Out Poems from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Visual Art / Literary Art (Blackout Poetry)
An Interpretation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Real and Imagined Animals in Medieval Literature (YHU2330)


Lines 1-59


Lines 691-739


Lines 1150-1177


Lines 1592-1600


Lines 2309-2314

Artist’s Remarks

My intention in creating this series is to foreground the theme of human vulnerability, particularly our shared vulnerability with the more-than-human world, that stands out to me in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Quoting Judith Butler, Steele (2011) writes,

“… humans reject their involvement in ‘primary vulnerability’ shared by all worldly beings, all of whom can be damaged; all of whom can cease to be, even die … humans construct themselves as properly vulnerable only before God, other humans” (p. 66) 

In response to Steele’s argument, I hope to highlight human vulnerability in the face of nature at large, and the shared bodily and fleshly existence that connects all living beings. This series consists of five poems titled “Opening”, “Journey”, “Hunting”, “The Boar”, and “Bodies”. The non-specificity of the names is intentional, as the themes the poems deal with are not confined to the world of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, but pertinent to the medieval chivalric world as a whole and even to contemporary concerns. These five poems are formed by picking out sections of the original poem where human centricity and human superiority ring strong. I then black out parts of the poem with the goal of decentering the human and/or sense of human ascendency and centering the more-than-human and/or the entanglements that humans share with the more-than-human world. I elaborate more on each poem below.


This poem is the blackout version of the opening of the original poem. Reading this section of the original poem brings to mind Cohen’s (2019) point that the poem “opens up with disaster rather than culminates in flames” (p. 5) with the crumbled city of Troy. Cohen goes on to say that the “Arthurian court is a shelter in the wake of catastrophe. Like Troy, it will not last” (p. 6), emphasising the precarity of the court. On top of the court, the poem’s opening is rife with mentions of other human constructions after the destruction of Troy, like the building of cities, townships, and empires like Britain. In setting human creations beside their destruction, the poem conveys the precarity of human structures in general—one moment they are there and the next, they could be gone. In the blackout version, I sought to highlight this precarity more by blacking out parts that focus on human affairs (e.g., the conquests, the constructions of buildings, the glorification of Arthur, the excesses of the court); in turn, the grandeur and expansiveness of nature (which are diminished in the original version) are emphasised. I hope that this conveys the sense of the smallness and vulnerability of humanity in the face of nature, thus destabalising the security that humans in this part of the story seem to have bought into. 


For this poem, the original version was the passage in which Sir Gawain has just left the Arthurian court to begin his long and arduous journey through the wilderness. Following the Opening poem, I wanted to continue the theme of human vulnerability in the face of nature. Hence, I blacked out parts that focused on Sir Gawain’s interiority and actions, and retained parts that focused on the environment around Gawain (including the animals he ran into). What stood out to me after doing this was how the various environmental bodies (e.g. the “bleak terrain”, the “brook”, “the mountains”) and the other lifeforms Gawain meets (e.g. “serpents and snarling wolves”, “bulls, bears and the old wild boar”) shape up to sound like a list, thus emphasising the vastness and diversity of the more-than-human world. With Gawain de-emphasised (he is only mentioned once at the start), and with the poem ending with an icy description, the smallness and vulnerability of Gawain is foregrounded.

Particularly, I decided to remove the line “with no friend but” in the original “with no friend but his horse through forests and hills”. Reading the original line felt almost oxymoronic to me—Gawain has a horse that accompanies him through so many trials and tribulations, yet the horse is not even considered a legitimate companion. By erasing “with no friend but”, together with the emphasis placed on the diverse terrains Gawain covers, I hoped to highlight the extensive labour of the horse and how crucial the horse was to Gawain’s survival, aspects that I felt were unfairly diminished in the original version.


This poem came from one of the hunts that Bertilak engages in. In the original version, the poem is peppered with descriptions of the hunters celebrating their killings (e.g., “the ring of beaters who bellowed boisterously”, “the lord’s heart leaps with life”) and descriptions that valorise the hunters (e.g., “so perfect and practised were the men”)—those were the parts I blacked out in order to draw attention to the violence exerted on the animals by the hunters, both psychologically and physically. Steele (2011) writes that these hunts primarily work to assert the elites as masters of violence. Given that hunts were a significant part of chivalric culture, I hope that this poem brings out the fact that chivalric culture is based on violently dominating the more-than-human world.

The Boar

In this poem, I wanted to zoom into the killing of one animal, to reinforce the brutality of the hunt. I chose the boar given that it is considered one of the fiercer and more feared animals in medieval hunting culture (Yamamoto, 2000, p. 126). Thus, the brutal killing of the boar would more effectively reflect the violence and bloodlust of the hunters. I chose to black out parts that refer to the boar (e.g. “the boar’s”, “the hog’s”) in the lines “knifing the boar’s neck” and “bursting the hog’s heart”, respectively, so as to focus on the mutilated body.


This poem was taken from the passage where Gawain receives a blow from the Green Knight. I blacked out parts about the Green Knight’s actions and the directions of the axe, so that the poem could focus on Gawain’s body. I also decided to black out “the knight’s” from the line “the blade bearing down on the knight’s bare neck” to convey the flimsiness of chivalric, self-affirming titles in the face of impending death.

The previous two poems focus on the bodies of the hunted animals. In this poem, I wanted to focus on Gawain’s body as he receives the blow, as a parallel to the fleshly bodies of the hunted animals. This is inspired by Yamamoto’s comments (2000): 

“… the hunts in the poem provide a ‘bodily’ subtext to the narrative of Gawain’s … subsequent journey to the Green Chapel. Hunting … (as a discourse) rested upon a forgetting of the fact that humans are bodies too … This interpretation of the hunts involves a shift of emphasis away from individual animals and towards their common fate … when we hear about … how (Gawain) flinches from glinting blade of the axe, we do think back to the cornered boar and fox—which too shrank from the hunter’s bright sword.” (p. 130-131)

Hence, I thought that this poem would be a good one to follow from the previous two poems and a fitting way to end the series by re-emphasising the shared bodily vulnerability between humans and non-humans. I decided to name the poem “bodies” instead of “human bodies” as an attempt to further blur the boundaries between human and the more-than-human; if one does not know where the poem was taken from, one might assume that this poem is still describing the hunted animals, thus reinforcing Yamamoto’s point that we forget that we are bodies too.


Armitage, S. (2007). Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (A New Verse Translation). W. W. Norton & Company.

Cohen, J. J. (2019). The Love of Life: Reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Close to Home. In V. Nardizzi & T. J. Werth (Eds.), Premodern Ecologies in the Modern Literary Imagination (pp. 25–58). University of Toronto Press.

Steele, K. (2011). Chapter 2: Mastering Violence. In How to Make a Human: Animals and Violence in the Middle Ages (pp. 61–67). The Ohio State University Press.

Yamamoto, D. (2000). Chapter 5: Bodies in the Hunt. In The Boundaries of the Human in Medieval English Literature (pp. 99–131). Oxford University Press.

Bevis Slays the Dragon of Cologne, Unwavering


Bevis Slays the Dragon of Cologne, Unwavering
An Interpretation of Bevis of Hampton
Real and Imagined Animals in Medieval Literature (YHU2330)

Artist’s Remarks

As a creative response to the medieval chivalric romance Bevis of Hampton, I have produced a painting depicting the scene where Bevis takes on one of his most formidable challenges of slaying the dragon of Cologne. The painting consists of a human figure, representing Bevis, at the bottom left, with a dragon flying overhead on the right. The scene is set high in the sky amongst the clouds, with Bevis standing on a clifftop with a waterfall behind him to the bottom left of the painting. My work focuses on a few of the major themes in the poem, such as man versus nature, divine empowerment, as well as chivalry and bravery.

Through referencing the characterisation of the dragon in the poem, I explore its depiction as a supernatural animal antagonistic to humanity. The dragon is characterised as a creature of evil that is hated by humanity, described as “bothe leith and grim” (2666), its menacing qualities linking it to ideas of death and destruction. In my work, I parallel this association with evil through the colours used to paint both the dragon and the right half the painting, which utilises dark shades of black, grey and blue. The darker blue colour helps situate the setting of the painting, as it recalls the colours of a stormy sky. The black and greys are used to create ominous clouds around the dragon, which together with the stormy sky help heighten the drama of the scene and create a menacing aura that surrounds the dragon. The dragon is painted with darker shades of green to achieve a similar effect that is further heightened by the dragon’s glowing red eye.

Despite its supernatural associations, the dragon is still seen as an animal of the wild to be conquered by man. The dragon is said to reside “at Coloyne under a clive”, hence I chose the chose the setting of my painting to be that of a cliff edge. My painting closely follows the description of the dragon in the romance: for example, around the dragon’s mouth, I depicted four hornlike structures to represent its “eighte toskes”, with four on either side of its head. While the colour of the dragon was not explicitly stated, I decided to paint it in a greenish colour, a reference to its ability to spit venom (2711). I used lighter shades of green and yellow for the webbings of the wing to create an iridescent quality to mimic the shine described in the poem. I followed along with the description of the tail in the poem, painting it as long and thick, appearing almost snake-like. Although the dragon was described as a maned creature, I decided to replace the hair with horns and spike, as I felt that a haired dragon resembled more closely the common depictions of Chinese dragons. The horns also helped enhance the dragon’s fearsome quality and were painted in locations such as around the neck area, similar to that of a lion, and along the top of its spine, to reference the parallel to a stallion.

Divine empowerment is especially prominent in Bevis’ fight with the dragon. Having been incapacitated many times by the dragon, each time Bevis’ strength is renewed through prayer and the presence of a well with healing properties that a “virgine hadde bathede in” (2805). His miraculous renewal of strength after each fall can be seen as an allusion to baptism and a sign of the power man holds over animals bestowed by God, as seen in the bestiary depictions of Adam naming the animals. I chose to depict this through the use of brighter white clouds and a light bluish grey sky over the silhouetted figure of Bevis on the left of the painting. I also chose to include light rays shining down on Bevis to represent God’s empowerment and blessing over him in his fight. While the poem depicts the healing water source as a well, I decided to instead represent it as a waterfall. I felt that this would be more appropriate to my chosen setting of the wilderness cliffside. The waterfall with its flowing water felt closely related to the idea of water as a purifying element, as wells are often associated with more stagnant groundwater. With its brilliant blue and white highlights, the waterfall appears to have a bright iridescent quality that helps connote its imbued magical healing properties. The divine empowerment Bevis experiences was hence mainly depicted through the natural landscape, creating an interesting contrast from the previously discussed opposition of man and nature. In my painting, aspects of nature seem to be also aiding Bevis in his fight against the dragon, echoing biblical moments where God appears to humans through natural elements such as the burning bush (Exodus 3).

Lastly, my painting also aims to explore Bevis’ chivalry and bravery in his battle with the dragon. Despite the horrifying nature of the dragon, Bevis chooses to continue with his quest even after the giant Ascopard backs out on him. In my painting, Bevis is depicted as a lone figure confronting the dragon.  He stands tall atop the cliff with a spear in hand that will later be shattered, as referenced in the poem (2771). Bevis is depicted with a flowing cape behind him, an added feature that I felt added to his heroic quality. Despite the poem’s description of the dragon’s monstrous size, I noticed that depictions of St George slaying the dragon often portray the creature as a smaller animal (Fig 1.).

Fig. 1: St. George Defeating the Dragon, Johann König, 1630, Oil on Copper.

While this could convey man’s conquering of nature, I chose to stick with the actual proportions described in the poem in order to heighten the bravery of Bevis through the juxtaposition of size. The dragon takes up the entire upper right of the painting, while Bevis appears as a small figure near the bottom left. This diagonal composition helps create a tension in this confrontation as the ominous form looms overhead, yet the smaller unfazed Bevis still stands tall in the face of his giant adversary, reinforcing his bravery as unwavering.


Herzman, Ronald B. “Bevis of Hampton.” Four Romances of England, Edited by Graham Drake and Eve Salisbury, 1999,

Holy Bible, American Bible Society, New York, 2002

How Saint George’s Dragon Got Its Wings – Jstor Daily.



Narration / Video
An Interpretation of The Writings of Gerald of Wales
Real and Imagined Animals in Medieval Literature (YHU2330)

Unfortunately, the quality of this video has been reduced due to site limitations on file size. To watch this video at a higher resolution, please click on the following link:


Artist’s Remarks

For my creative project, I chose to adapt Gerald of Wales’ Journey Through Wales and Topography of Ireland. I chose these two texts as I feel that they stand at the perfect intersection of humanity, bestiality, and spirituality. Topography of Ireland, for example, while providing a laundry list of animals that inhabit it, also provides a certain moral judgment on the island, the people who live there and the weird, twisted, rather ominous version of the religion they follow. Journey through Wales also interestingly weaves geographical locations with stories, fables, or “history” of how certain things came to be – for example, the falcon that kills the King’s hawk and thus gain his species the King’s favour. I find it absolutely fascinating as someone who enjoys travelling, to bring Gerald’s work into the 21st century and appropriate the content such that it highlights contemporary concerns and beliefs.

I particularly enjoy Gerald’s style of narration where he seems to be both narrating a story but also aiming to chronicle historical events in Wales and Ireland. From his style, what I wanted to take on was Gerald’s masterful weaving of the natural with both the material and immaterial worlds to visualise the world as he sees it. This act of remediation highlights the subjectivity of narration, one that cannot be downplayed in critically analysing these pieces of work.


First and foremost, I see Gerald’s works as chronicles that seek to delineate a physical location’s attributes – its animals, its peoples, its beliefs. While a documentary could be said to do the same thing, Gerald creates records of places without much visual aid. To achieve this effect, I decided to adapt YNC Screentest’s style, where the interviewee sits in the centre of the frame, with a plain background in black and white. The removal of any other visual stimulus, to me, focuses the object at hand, which is a man’s story of places he has been to.

Gerald’s works take on a segmented, rather episodic nature. Topography of Ireland specifically highlights this – that the book “falls into three parts”, dealing with geography, religious beliefs, and animals separately (23). Wales is rather segmented too, with each chapter being dedicated to a specific geographic location. While these are formally separated, I see that these vignettes all work in unison to create a common narrative. In Ireland, for example, these vignettes provide a thorough overview of a land’s geography, spirituality, and the kinds of creatures that live there, while at the same time subtly incorporating the notion of the island as an exotic “other” that can be wholly unfamiliar, strange, or wicked for the English. To adapt this episodic nature, my short video has many jump cuts, where I edited the video so that it jumps abruptly from one clip to another without transitions in between. In each of these clips, I speak of something distinctly different from the previous one, although just like Ireland and Wales, I seek to chronicle my travels bound in a singular, governing narrative. To me, that is to describe Bali in its rawest sense.

Lastly, I decided to not have any screens with the section headers/interviewers asking me the question. This is a creative decision that departs from Gerald’s work. I wanted to change Gerald’s more formal style – while he writes his mind, I feel that the broken boundary removes a certain distance between the producer and the audience. Gerald’s episodes are distinctly marked, but I elected to edit mine according to a more stream-of-consciousness style. The stream-of-consciousness style seems much more personal, less mediated, a direct peek into the person’s mind. The proximity of the camera to the subject and its refusal to move also simulates a conversation, or at the very least allows a more personal consumption.


The adaptation of the content is less dramatic than that of the form. I wanted to highlight Bali’s positionality, beliefs, and animality in my “interview”. Gerald mentions that he strives to “examine everything carefully”, the “position”, “nature”, and “race” (31) of Ireland. This is interesting to me for numerous reasons – such meticulous attention to holistic detail is translated as incessant focus on the relationship between animals and Biblical stories, for example. To me, this disjunction between describing animals present in Ireland with background fables that have little or nothing to do with Ireland specifically is something that is a bit of a betrayal to Gerald’s own mission statement. I seek to remedy this by describing the animals in Bali in a localised context. For example, I speak of monkeys who play pranks on tourists in the monkey forests in Ubud (06:42 – 07:31), and the koi fishes that inhabit a temple’s pond (02:07 – 02:48). Unlike Gerald, however, I attempted to speak of them in an anthropomorphic manner, where I anthropomorphise their actions (the monkeys playing a prank on a tourist). I incorporated my own reflections of animals that are not entirely divorced from religious beliefs but based on direct observations, such as the how the fishes and I can only ever see each other well through refractions and the cost of this boundary. This departure, while not a revolutionary one, helped me refocus the positionality of the animals such that they do not leave their locality and become divorced from cultural contexts, which is something I find to be sorely missing in Gerald’s work.

Gerald’s work incorporates fables and mythical stories that are woven into geographical locality, for example the possessed woman in Poitou (152 – 153). I find these very interesting as they are not necessarily purely chronicles of the present but also the histories of a place. I adapted this feature and attempted to incorporate fables in my story, for example the story of the dragon and the greedy son. This story exemplifies the ability of fables to assert moral beliefs – humility, honour, and filial piety, for example, just like the fables and myths present in Gerald’s works. Another example is the story of thinking impure thoughts leading to doom, that is modelled on Gerald’s warnings against venturing into “nine pits” (61). I find these nuggets of warnings absolutely fascinating, and I do see a very strong resemblance still to the local beliefs in Bali.

Lastly, I followed Gerald’s wisdom of choosing moments “worthy of being remembered” (31). In that sense, this work aims to follow Gerald’s, in a way that it hopes to chronicle a man’s laborious journey and report it back, such that “no age can destroy them.”


Cambrensis, Giraldus, and John Joseph O’Meara. The History and Topography of Ireland. Penguin Books, 1988. 

Gerardus, et al. The Journey through Wales, and ; the Description of Wales. Penguin Books, 2004. 

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: Chapter 1 Abridged


Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: Chapter 1 Abridged
Web Comic
An Interpretation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Real and Imagined Animals in Medieval Literature (YHU2330)

Artist’s Remarks

This creative adaption of the first section of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight through the form of a webcomic seeks to reflect on the characteristics that define what it means to be human in the romance, and to explore medieval understandings of the human/ non-human dichotomy in ways accessible to a modern audience.

The Green Knight is first differentiated from the knights of the Round Table through his heavy association with green, a colour that is commonly found in nature but is relatively foreign to the court. The text begins with a reference to the siege of Troy, which left the city in ashes. The image conjured, as represented in the first section of the webcomic, is a burning cityscape shrouded in ashes – splashes of black, grey, and red. Subsequently, the court is introduced through their Christmas and New Year’s feasts. Nature is stagnant in winter, with trees shrouded in white, while the Round Table of knights feast indoors. Food is illustrated with reference from research into what they would have been consuming, specifically, copious quantities of meat and bakes garnished with a sprinkle of greens. The appearance of the Green Knight is therefore the first instance in which green is introduced in both the text and the comic. While the text focuses on the strangeness of a man with green hair, the webcomic, through illustrations, creates a more immediate and striking visual effect of introducing green as the reader scrolls. 

Another distinguishing factor that sets the Green Knight apart from the knights of the Round Table is his physical size. While the text emphasizes this distinction through description of the Green Knight as “mountainous” and “half-giant”, the webcomic provides an opportunity to bring this out visually. Given the lower perspective of the drawing, the Green Knight appears larger to the audience, as the audience is now forced to see the knight from the viewpoint of a shorter character. In addition, the scrolling in webcomics, coupled with the elongated illustration of the Green Knight, creates an additional sense of height and sheer size in comparison to the smaller and shorter Round Table knights illustrated at his feet. The generic nature of the knights presented through showing primarily their backs and cloaks and a hair seemingly common to the Round Table knights – short shoulder-length curls left loose – further emphasizes the Green Knight’s distinctiveness.

Beyond their physical differences, the Green Knight’s attire further alienates him from the Round Table. His outfit is green through and through, made with reflective materials such as gems and silk that only further underscore its verdant quality. It is an object of fascination, and the intricacy of its design is shown through a full body illustration in the webcomic: “details […] difficult to describe,/ embroidered as it was with butterflies and birds, green beads emblazoned on a background of gold.”

Finally, the moment in which both members of the Round Table and the audience are confirmed in their judgment of the Green Knight as monstrous is when he stays alive after being beheaded. The infinite scroll ends on this climactic moment after creating a deliberate slowing of pace in the second to last frame, in which the main question posed by the exploration of this creative adaptation has been answered, specifically: what makes the Green Knight human, and is he human? The answer stares the audience straight in the face with empty eyes: the fact that the knight can still provide instructions to Gawain is a clear indication that he is not human. Despite the many characteristics that distinguish him from humans, however, the line between what it means to be human and to be monstrous remains blurred: the knight exhibits human features (albeit on a greater scale), wears clothes, communicates through human language, and follows the customs of chivalric society. 

The Crusader Knight Bevis and Arondel


The Crusader Knight Bevis and Arondel
Performing Art (Song)
An Interpretation of Bevis of Hampton
Real and Imagined Animals in Medieval Literature (YHU2330)



And Beves rod on Arondel
That was a stede gode and lel
He smot hit with spures of golde
Thanne thoughte that hors, that he scholde
Tho laide thai on with eger mod
And slowe Sarsins, as hii wer wod
Beves and is ost withinne a stounde
Sexti thosent thai felde to grounde

Pax in Nomine Domini

And Bevis rode on Arondel
Who was a fine and loyal steed
He struck it with golden spurs
The horse knew what it was meant to do
They attacked with keen vigor
And killed Saracens as though they were berserk
Bevis and his host, within that time
Fell sixty thousand to the ground

Peace in the Name of the Lord


Arondel thar Ivor bestrit
That hors wel sone underyit
That Beves nas nought upon is rigge
The king wel sore scholde hit abegge
And er hii mighte that hors winne
Thai laughte him with queinte ginne
No man dorste come him hende
Thar that hors stod in bende

Ivor mounted on Arondel
That horse very soon knew
That Bevis was not upon its back
The king soon paid for it painfully
And before they could catch that horse
They had to trap it with clever tricks
No man dared come near
Where that horse stood in fetters


Whan that hors herde nevene
His kende lordes stevene
His rakenteis he al terof
And wente in to the kourt wel kof
Arondel ne wawede no fot
Til Beves hadde the stirop
Beves in to the sadel him threw
Tharbi that maide him wel knew

When that horse heard the sound
Of his rightful lord‘s voice
He broke away from his fetters
And galloped quickly into the court
Arondel did not move a foot
Until Bevis had the stirrup on
And threw himself into the saddle
With that the maid knew him well


“Mahoun thee save!” seide Saber
“Fro whanne kometh this fair deistrer?”
Aboute he ternde the deistrer
Up behinde lep Saber
And smot the Sarasin ded adoun
With the pik of his bordoun
To the King Ivor he gan grede
“Lo, Arondel ich a wei lede”

Pax in Nomine Domini

“Mohammed save you!” said Saber
“Where did this fair steed come from?”
The Saracen turned the steed around
Up leapt Saber onto its back
And struck the Saracen down and dead
With the spike of his staff
To King Ivor he did implore
“Behold, I shall lead Arondel away”

Peace in the Name of the Lord


To his stable Beves gan fare
Arondel a fond thar ded
That ever hadde be gode at nede
Tharfore him was swithe wo
In to his chaumber he gan go
And segh Josian drawe to dede
In is armes he gan hire folde
And thar hii deide bothe ifere

Bevis walked to his stable
And found Arondel dead,
Who had always been there in need.
For this he had such great sadness.
He began to go into his chamber
And saw Josian also nearing death.
He embraced her in his arms
And there the both of them died together.


An hous here sone made of riligioun,
For to singe for Sire Bevoun
And ek for Josian the fre
God on here saules have pité
And also for Arondel
Yif men for eni hors bidde schel
Thus endeth Beves of Hamtoun
God yeve us alle Is benesoun!

And their son established a monastic house
To sing prayers for Sir Bevis
And also for Josian the gracious
May God have pity on their souls
And also for Arondel
If men should pray for any horse
Thus the end of Bevis of Hampton
May God give us all His blessing!

Artist’s Remarks

Bevis of Hampton may appear to an unknowing audience as yet another chivalric romance at first glance, but its extensive geographical setting and significant attention to the encounters between medieval Europe and the Middle East set the tale apart. While Bevis’ adventure takes the forefront, the tale never shies away from the violence and religious tensions of its time. It includes Bevis’ slaying of some sixty thousand Muslims, his refusal to convert to Islam in Armenia, and his eventual conversion of the entire Armenia to Christianity. This creative adaptation takes the form of a song and seeks to draw out the underlying context and tone of the Crusades and trace the subjectivity of the horse Arondel in Bevis of Hampton through a musical marriage with the troubadour Marcabru’s similarly themed poem Pax in Nomine Domini. This piece reflects on how chivalric identity can be perceived as a composite figure of man and horse, and explores the intimate connection, perhaps even participation, of the animal in heroic quests and religious violence during the Middle Ages.

The song’s lyrics tell an abridged version of Arondel’s involvement in Bevis’ adventures throughout the tale that fleshes out the deep sense of loyalty and intimate coordination of the human (Bevis’) and animal bodies in their actions, as well as the extent of violence inflicted by this composite Crusader knight of Bevis and Arondel (and their companions) on others, notably the “Sarasins” (a medieval term used to refer to those who practised Islam, especially the Arabs and Turks). Split into six verses, the song begins with an introduction to Arondel and a key moment in the earlier part of the tale where together, Bevis and Arondel slayed a total of “[s]exti thosent” Saracens. This is possible due to an almost telepathic connection between the two; the line “Thanne thoughte that hors, that he scholde” shows how Arondel is able to perceive his master’s intention and thereafter move in synchronisation with it. The second, third, and fourth verses each highlight an instance where Arondel demonstrates his loyalty to Bevis and perhaps even plays a crucial role in moving the narrative forward. The third verse in particular shows Arondel becoming a trope common in medieval romances—a sign for separated lovers to recognise each other. However, the tale employs this trope in an unusual manner, where Arondel is both the sign and an additional, non-lover entity who undergoes the process of recognition to reunite with Bevis. It is only upon their recognition that the lady Josian herself recognises and reunites with Bevis (“Tharbi that maide him wel knew”). The final two verses then shift to examine the impact of Arondel’s death upon the story. Interestingly, Arondel’s death seems to herald both Bevis and his lover’s deaths, as well as the conclusion of the tale. Even more curious is how the tale consecrates not just the knightly hero and his lover at the end, but Arondel as well. A most intriguing line—“Yif men for eni hors bidde schel”—follows, hinting at the narrative’s self-awareness of how absurd it may appear for a horse to be dedicated such religious importance and further gesturing towards the importance of the horse in construing the knight as a composite of man and animal.

In compiling the different episodes involving Arondel, some were inevitably left out to ensure that the song is able to function as a standalone narrative and as one that retains the original tale’s structure—we are introduced to the central figure, taken along on various quests and battles, made to witness their death, and compelled into a meditative mood with the closing religious tone. Minor edits were made to the Middle English lines, often for clarifying or reducing redundancy in pronouns and references to characters. These lines were also mostly incorporated with their original pairings in the tale so as to keep them as rhyming couplets, for their sonic symmetry renders them more song-like and thus easier to transpose into music. A notable exception occurs in the fifth verse, where the rhyming couplet pattern is intentionally broken by the line mentioning Arondel’s death to depict its rupture of Bevis’ knightly identity (“To his stable Beves gan fare / Arondel a fond thar ded”). Two lines of “Pax in Nomine Domini” (literally “Peace in the name of the Lord”) are retained from Marcabru’s original work to serve as brief interludes dividing the song into a structure of “introduction / episodes of Bevis and Arondel’s bond and violence / Arondel’s death and aftermath”. Furthermore, this Latin phrase also maintains the solemn tone of the song and accentuates the tale’s context of the Crusades. Further inspiration is drawn from the often flexible order of verses in troubadour poetry that Marcabru is known for to guide the act of gathering and shuffling lines from the original Bevis of Hampton tale in writing this song.

The song borrows the melody of Marcabru’s “Pax in Nomine Domini” poem, with minor alterations to better accommodate the Middle English words, for a perfect fit is difficult given linguistic differences from Old Occitan. Performance of the song’s vocals is largely monophonic and accompanied by harp chords and tambourine jingles using GarageBand. Both instruments are natural picks given their popularity in both Europe and the Middle East during the Middle Ages. In the context of this performance, these instruments are also utilised for their evocation of seemingly dualistic qualities. The harp adds a tender tone to bring out the close bond of affection between Bevis and Arondel, while arousing a melancholic mood over the deaths and bloodshed mentioned throughout the lyrics. The tambourine evokes a sense of folk music that calls to mind the tale’s linguistic style, which can resemble oral storytelling due to its repetition and fairly narrow vocabulary, yet simultaneously suggests a sense of ritual and praise that is consistent with the tale’s heavy biblical overtones in its celebration and consecration of Bevis’ deeds.

The first verse begins with sparse instrumentation so that attention is drawn to the declarative introduction of Bevis and Arondel’s story and relationship. Following the interlude of “Pax in Nomine Domini” sung a capella, the next three verses are sung in a more dance-like rhythm, accompanied by regular harp chords and then tambourine jingles. The harp accompaniment evolves into strumming after the third verse, which speaks of Arondel’s liberation from the fetters imposed upon him by King Ivor. The fifth verse slows the song’s tempo dramatically to give pause to Arondel, Bevis, and Josian’s deaths. Here, the harp instrumentation is stripped bare: the harp chords begin with three notes, reduced to two upon mention of Arondel’s death, and cease being chords altogether upon mention of Josian’s death. A barely audible low “A” note is held for most of the verse to add a foreboding mood. The final verse picks up the tempo slightly and is accompanied by only the tambourine to accentuate the silence after the end of the main characters’ deaths, and simultaneously to mark their consecration and reflect on the tale’s ritualistic performance of knightly identity through its repetitions and episodic narrative. Overall, the song pays tribute to many musical and poetic forms as discussed above, but with no strict adherence to a specific tempo even within each verse. Performed in freestyle, the song draws out the more chaotic, “animalistic” side of the medieval knight figure in a tale full of heroic deeds and chivalric violence alike.



Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Saracen”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 1 Feb. 2022, Accessed 29 April 2023.

Eckert, Ken. “Bevis of Hampton”. Chaucer’s Reading List: Sir Thopas, Auchinleck, and Middle English Romances in Translation. 2011. University of Nevada Las Vegas. PhD dissertation.

Savall, Jordi. “Marcabru (1100-1150): Pax in Nomine Domini”. YouTube, uploaded by Eric Boulanger, 9 May 2012,


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A True and Historical Relation of a Man that was Half an Animal, and an Animal that was Half a Man, who was Chased Away by the Holy Men of this City of Manila: As Told by Andrés Gómez


A True and Historical Relation of a Man that was Half an Animal, and an Animal that was Half a Man, who was Chased Away by the Holy Men of this City of Manilai: As Told by Andrés Gómezii
Literary Art
An Interpretation of The Writings of Gerald of Wales
Real and Imagined Animals in Medieval Literature (YHU2330)

In the closing days of the last year, being the year 1623 of our Lord, a truly strange event occurred in this city. Reports of a strange and fearsome creature appearing in the forest began circulating in the markets. It was unlike anything we had ever seen before. Half-man, half-beast, it was a terrifying sight that filled us all with unease. Some described it as having the horns of a goat, with the strength and claws of a lion, but having a face of an Indian and walking upright like a man.iii The creature was, of course, a sign of impending doom and misfortune. That it appeared is no wonder, for we are surrounded by heathens, from the Mohammedans to the Protestant heretics.iv Its presence was surely a test from God, a test of our faith and loyalty to Him.

The creature, not content with putrefying the forests near our city, began to wander closer by. We began to see this creature on the outskirts of town, where the Chinese lived and farmed.v It was then that we began to worry with seriousness. Several people from the town appeared before me, requesting my help and advice. I told them that it was sin that brought this great evil upon our doorstep. It is no wonder that they appeared within the ranks of the Chinese first. After all, it was they who brought their idols onto our shores. Worryingly, several of the townspeople told me it appeared as if the creature began fraternizing with some of the townsfolk. As it became more and more entrenched in our society, I prepared to see for myself this debased creature.

However, the creature would elude me. Time and time again, when I would try to weed out this beast-man, it would go into hiding, no doubt returning to the Chinese who were unfriendly to priests or to the depths of the forest. Yet its influence continued to grow. I feared it was only a matter of time before it struck, having made some of the townspeople warm up to him. Things became unbearable when a young Christian boy lay dead a month after the creature’s arrival, his blood drained in an obvious With this in mind, I wrote to the Inquisition Commissar don Francisco de Estrada y Escovedo. It was my hope that the creature might be brought to trial in Mexico, where the Inquisition’s headquarters in his Majesty’s colonies were.vii By the Grace of God, he agreed with me and promised to lead a city-wide hunt for it the following year.

On one quiet night with no moonlight, forty armed friars and many soldiers accompanied don Francisco and I to find the creature.viii After several hours of ransacking homes and rounding up conspirators, I heard some shouting and a shot of musket from several houses down the street from where I was. Soon, a soldier by the name of Pedro ran to us. His breastplate of steel was scratched deeply by three claws. The creature, said Pedro, was trying to suck the blood out of him. But by God’s grace, he escaped death by firing a shot from his musket. The creature, scared by this foreign noise, ran off into the darkness. Nevertheless, the shot hit one of the creature’s horns. Shards of bone lay in the house in which Pedro had met the creature. Don Francisco and I decided that this was enough proof that it existed and was a clear threat to the sanctity of our city.

We returned to the town square where we had rounded up about thirty who conspired with the creature, helping him to enter our city. The person whose house we found the creature in, one mestizo called de Castro, was promptly taken away to the dungeons, where he remains today, awaiting his transportation to Mexico where he will face trial.ix We threatened the rest with banishment. Most immediately repented when we showed them the shards of horn that we had gathered from Pedro’s shot. They cited the magic that was cast upon them, which made the creature present itself as a normal man. We let those go, with a warning and a probation period in which they were to report to me weekly at the church.x

However, there was a strange man with a wild appearance who stood defiantly in our presence. Hateful words spewed out of his bearded mouth, and he said that we may have destroyed the creature, but not what it stood for, for that can never be replied. Before I could question him, however, don Francisco ordered a soldier to take him away in chains. When I had asked don Francisco the next day his thoughts on the man, he said that the ramblings of a wild man should not be heard by the good population of the city.xi

Thus ends this strange relation of a half-creature, and half-man. But let us not forget the lesson that this creature has taught us. It is a reminder of the dangers of sin and the influence of the heathens among us. May God have mercy on de Castro, who conspired with the beast, and for the wild man who dared to speak against the holy men of the Inquisition. May this city of Manila be spared from further trials and tribulations, and that it continues to thrive under the protection of God.xii

Author’s Remarks

The short story is inspired by several themes: Gerard of Wales’ short tale of the hybrid men, the anxiety faced by early modern Spanish religious authorities in Manila, the evolution of the European relationship with nature, and the writing style of Succeso Raro de Tres Volcanes. The outline of the story is inspired by Gerard of Wales’ short tale of the hybrid men in Book II of The History and Topography of Ireland. I attempt to complicate the murderous paranoia of the Irish towards the ox-man in Gerard of Wales’ story by exploring a similar anxiety demonstrated by the early modern Spanish religious authorities in Manila. This short story also explores the evolution of the European relationship with nature from the medieval to the early modern period. Finally, the story takes on the writing style of Succeso Raro de Tres Volcanes, an early modern relation of a strange event where three volcanoes erupted in one day in the mid-17th century Philippines. Several other inspirations––some minor––are cited in the text, where they are most applicable.

Spanish Manila is a suitable setting for the story due to its history of religious homogeneity, suspicion towards new converts, and encounters with non-Catholic societies. In 1492, Catholic Spain ended Muslim Granada’s rule after centuries of intermittent wars known as the Reconquista, freeing the peninsula of Muslim polities for the first time in over 700 years.xiii When they encountered Islam once more in their colonial ventures in places like Ternate (to the south of Manila), these Muslim societies were considered naturally hostile, despite having evolved independently of any Catholic disputes.xiv This meant that there was an “other” that could be mapped to the first man-animal hybrid­­––who was killed by the Irish––described by Gerard of Wales.

In describing my hybrid, I also adopt the medieval/early modern pattern of painting the other as less than human. Gerard of Wales writes of another ox-man: “It spent nearly a year with the other calves following its mother and feeding on her milk, and then, because it had more of the man than the beast, was transferred to the society of men.”xv Here, Gerald of Wales portrays a hierarchy placing humanity at the top––if one were to be deemed enough of a man, he was to be welcomed into human society. Similarly, the hybrid man in my fictional story only truly faced trouble when he crossed that line into human society. More alarming is the killing of a Christian boy a month after its arrival. This is inspired by a common trope in medieval Christian propaganda against Jewish people living in Christian polities. In medieval Europe, two main anti-Jewish accusations were ritual murder and desecration of the host. These revolved around young boys, which often manifested in the ritual murder libel stating that the Jews of a certain area had killed a young Christian boy in their community.xvi These accusations would persist beyond the medieval era, finding their way into 18th-century European discourse. 

It is for this reason that I deliberately did not ascertain whether the animal hybrid actually existed in my fictional piece, unlike Gerard of Wales in his story. After all, the shards of bone could very well have been from broken leftovers, and Spanish arms were more than potent enough to damage armour. Many of the ‘stories’ involving ritualistic killings mentioned earlier were fabricated, and I wanted to convey the paranoia surrounding a larger-than-life outsider in my story. It is also for this reason that the main ‘conspirator’ was a mestizo––those who were of mixed heritage were seen as suspicious. In fact, de Castro was a real person of mixed descent who was eventually condemned by the Inquisition.xvii I wished to maintain the suspense through having an unreliable narrator in André Gómez (whose name I also borrowed from a Inquisitorial notary who handled de Castro’s trial in 1625).xviii

While the elusive main character of my story has similarities with Gerald of Wales’ ox-man who was killed, the narrator in my story treats the hybrid very differently from Gerald of Wales. When speaking of the ox-man’s death at the hands of the Irish, Gerald writes that “[they] secretly killed him in the end in envy and malice – a fate which he did not deserve.”xix The narrator of my story does not extend such grace and mercy to our hybrid. Instead, it is seen as a corrupting force, brought upon as a plague due to their being surrounded by heretics and idolaters. Apart from serving as an analogy to crypto-Muslims and crypto-Jews, the story also shows an evolving attitude to nature. While Gerald of Wales describes his ox-man using the pronoun ‘him’, the narrator of my story consistently uses ‘it’. The colonial project, amongst many other things, was integral to the beginning of the idea of nature as factories to be exploited.xx Within this colonial psyche, animals were to be exploited and made subservient to humans, whose destiny was to master and tame the natural world. There is less space for grace towards a being that defied that clear distinction between human and animal––the master and the subjugated.

The inclusion of the wild man as a last vestige of a forgone age is inspired by Chrétien de Troyes’ romance Yvain and represents the repression and effacement of popular culture. Yvain learns to respect the wild man, who proclaims he is “nothing but [him]self,” and through his choosing of living in the wild, defies social conventions of the time.xxi However, instead of earning a begrudging respect, the wild man in this tale is taken away when he voices his opinion freely and defiantly. Taken away by the Inquisition, the wild man is a symbol of what historian Carlo Ginzburg calls repression and effacement of popular culture.”xxii

These themes are all brought together in the writings of a holy man. The text that the story borrows from stylistically, Succeso Raro de Tres Volcanes, levels blame upon an insufficiently pious population for the disasters that befell the Philippines in the mid-17th century. Similarly, it is under the guise of religious piety and conformation for salvation that, ironically, meant a lesser tolerance for grace towards the now-subservient subjects of nature.

In conclusion, this story hopes to deepen the treatment of the hybrid character as found in Book II of Gerard of Wales’ The History and Topography of Ireland. The different treatment of the two different hybrids speaks to an evolution in human attitudes towards nature, from one more open to cohabitation to one more exclusive and dominant. Through keeping the identity of the hybrid secret, I aim to represent the confusion and paranoia surrounding outsiders in the early modern Spanish empire. However, this confusion––as the Irish natives in Gerard of Wales’ account––would result in violence. The main difference between mine and Gerard of Wales’ treatment of hybrids, however, is that my hybrid may not have existed in the story at all. That, to my narrator, is not important––what is important is that the sins of the townsfolk are cleansed so the abomination against nature and mankind, which signifies sin, cannot penetrate society again.


i Gerard of Wales, The History and Topography of Ireland. Translated and edited by J. O’Meara (Penguin Publishing Group, 1983), 73.

ii Name taken from an Inquisition trial. See Ryan Dominic Crewe, A Moluccan Crypto-Muslim before the Transpacific Inquisition (1623–1645) in The Spanish Pacific, 1521-1815: A Reader of Primary Sources, ed. Lee Christina Hyo Jung, Ricardo Padrón (Amsterdam University Press, 2020), pp. 171-187.

iii Inspiration drawn from the Chimera description of Thomas de Cantimpré, Liber de natura rerum, Quadrupeds 4.23. Accessed on

iv See Joseph Fayol, “Affairs in Filipinas, 1644-1647,” 1647, BR 35: 272.

v Charles J. McCarthy, “Slaughter of Sangleys in 1639,” Philippine Studies 18, no. 3 (1970): 659.

vi E. Carlebach, Divided Souls: Converts from Judaism in Germany, 1500-1750 (Yale University Press, 2008), 141.

vii Charles H. Cunningham, “The Inquisition in the Philippines: The Salcedo Affair,” The Catholic Historical Review 3, no. 4 (1918): 419.

viii Cunningham, 426.

ix Ryan Dominic Crewe, A Moluccan Crypto-Muslim before the Transpacific Inquisition (1623–1645), 185-186.

x Ryan Dominic Crewe, A Moluccan Crypto-Muslim before the Transpacific Inquisition (1623–1645), 180.

xi Sara T Nalle, “Insanity and the Insanity Defense in the Spanish Inquisition,” 1992.

xii Raymundo Magisa, Succeso Raro de Tres Volcanes, Dos de Fuego, y Uno de Agua, Que Rebentaron a 4 de Enero Deste Año de 641 a vn Mismo Tiempo En Diferentes Partes de Estas Islas Filipinas Con Grande Estruendo Por Los Ayres Como de Artillería, y Mosqueteria (Manila: Por Raymundo Magisa, 1641).

xiii Ethan Hawkley, Reviving the Reconquista in Southeast Asia: Moros and the Making of the Philippines, 1565–1662 in Journal of World History 25, no. 2-3 (2014): 286.

xiv Ethan Hawkley, Reviving the Reconquista in Southeast Asia, 287.

xv Gerard of Wales, The History and Topography of Ireland, 74.

xvi Carlebach, Divided Souls: Converts from Judaism in Germany, 1500-1750, 141.

xvii De Castro was not an innocent victim, and he was reported to the inquisition by his wife in part due to sexual transgressions including rape. See Ryan Dominic Crewe, A Moluccan Crypto-Muslim before the Transpacific Inquisition (1623–1645) for a full account.

xviii Ryan Dominic Crewe, A Moluccan Crypto-Muslim before the Transpacific Inquisition (1623–1645), 179.

xix Gerard of Wales, The History and Topography of Ireland, 74.

xx Amitav Ghosh, “The Nutmeg’s Curse,” in The Nutmeg’s Curse (University of Chicago Press, 2021), 73.

xxi Line 331 in Chrétien de Troyes, Burton Raffel, and Joseph J. Duggan, “Yvain: The Knight of the Lion,” in Yvain, The Knight of the Lion (Yale University Press, 1987), 12.

xxii Carlo Ginzburg, The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller (New York, N.Y: Penguin Books, 1982), 126,


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