Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Katherine Group and Tattoo Theory

My paper for the International Congress of Medieval Studies, and accompanying presentation, focused on a duality of narratives- comparing the narrative of my tattoos with St. Katherine's torture as narrative.

Applying sociological theory of tattoos, most notably Bevery Yuen Thompson's Covered in Ink (2015), women who are heavily tattooed face several expectations and obstacles. Thompson's work specifically examines how heavily tattooed women are considered to:
  • cross a socially accepted line
  • violate gender norms
  • perform a narrative publicly
My paper asked the question of whether or not we could apply this to medieval hagiographies, specifically to draw a parallel between how tattoos are seen as a narrative written on the body and how the torture of saints are seen as a narrative.

The personal "cuteness" of my Kzoo paper will probably ultimately just become an anecdote that opens my article. But today I sat down to close read The Katherine Group (MS Bodley 34) to see if my hypothesis was supported by the readings.

So here are just some preliminary notes.
All the women in this group, Katherine, Margaret, Juliana, are all described as young maidens. Each of them cross a socially accepted line and violate gender norms because of their faith.
  • Katherine does it when she challenges the Emperor, the scholars who debate her, and secular authority. 
  • Margaret does it when she yearns to suffer for the Ruler but later the idea of debating with her is also mentioned.  
  • Juliana counters her father, and her husband, and the reeve, when she refuses to comply with her expected duties.
Each of these women's beauty, their exterior looks are mentioned. Perhaps, as a way to emphasize just how catastrophic the effects of the torture are on their bodies later.
  • Katherine is described "by her lovely form"
  • Margaret "shimmered and shone all of face and form." Later as she's tortured "the accursed scoundrels laid so miserably on her lovely body that it burst firth overall and was lathered in blood." In this same session her lovely body and the blood bursting is connected twice more.
  • Juliana's body during torture is likewise described, "her lovely body that it lathered in blood." Later others say there is "sorrow" on seeing her "beautiful flesh" tortured.
The men who oppose these women are constructed as demonic adversaries.
  • Katherine's Emperor is described as "the very child of the devil." 
  • Olibrius is first described as a "villain" and "heathen" and "wicked." 
  • Juliana describes her husband, Eleusius, as "entirely committed to devils." Later after the wheel, Juliana remarks, "guard me against the devil's drudges and against their tricks" and says "the reeve with his devils."
Writing metaphors are key to these women professing their faith. There is also an overlap in debate, speech, and proselytizing, all variations of narratives.
  • Katherine's journey begins when she traces the holy Rood on her breast, before her teeth and the tongue of her mouth. Later she asks for "strength to my speech" and the Lord pours into her mouth. Also, when she is beheaded, she tells the executioner to do it, giving the order herself, thus determining how her own narrative will end.
  • Margaret makes reference to torture as a mark, and her healing as "His mark"
    • In the incident with the dragon, it's interesting to read the swallowing as a form of silencing Margaret's narrative.  
    • Once Margaret is dead, she is told by the Lord, "Where so ever your bodyt or any of your bones are, or a book of your passion should the sinful man come and lay his mouth upon it I shall heal him of his sins." So we have this overlap between body/narrative/mouths.
  • Juliana's narrative opens with specific mention of her tale as translated.
    • She describes her torture, her speaking about faith, as "teaching."
    • Juliana's debate with Belial draws a parallel between her professing her faith as model and how the devils lead people astray.
Each woman's torture is both a narrative of their faith for all to see ("read") AND is the enforced narrative of the patriarchal (demonic) authority is trying to inscribe on their bodies as a way to counter the narrative of faith.
  • The emperor orders Katherine be "stripped stark naked and her bare flesh and her beautiful body beaten with knotted scourges." She is later imprisoned and starved. Angels appear and heal her wounds and feed her. Enraged, the emperor creates the cruelest torture he can image- a set of wheels set with spikes where Katherine will be "torn apart wretchedly and piteously ripped up." Yet the wheel is shattered.  Not to be deterred, the Emperor has iron nails driven through her nipples, dragged outside the city, and beheaded.
    • Katherine's story just ends, with an apparent, but unknown, narrator. 
      Harley MS 928, f. 10r c13619-50
  • Olibrius orders Margaret stripped naked, hung up, and beaten with rods. Then she is hung up, and cut with swords and awls. Then she's torn apart so badly no one can stand to look at her. She is then cast into prison where she encounters a demon in the form of a dragon, who swallows her, but she defeats through a Rood-token, revealing another demon, the brother of the dragon. In this exchange there's a lot of focus on what comes out of the devil's mouth, which is another addition to the writing metaphors and an addition to the types of narratives in the haiography. The devil also provides a parallel for the saint's story- how they come to people because of faith, or lack thereof, the tools they use, what their purpose it. There's also the incident of discussing "nature" or as the original text has it, cunde, as in "kind" which I think holds a different meaning than "nature." Olibrius strips her naked again, hands her and burns her. She is then thrown into a vessel to drown. Then she is beheaded, but like Katherine, she is able to turn this into a point of control for herself, deciding how her story ends by first praying for others, then it being HER order the executioner listens to.
    • Margaret's narrative ends with a similarly obvious but unnamed narrator as Katherine's.
  • Juliana is beaten with rods, than stripped naked by her father for defiance. Next the reeve stips her naked and stretched her out earth, then has her beaten. Eleusius then has her pulled up by her hair, and beaten. Then molten brass is poured over her. Then she is thrown in prison. After Belial visits her sh is next put on a steal wheel, her limbs pulled apart, her bones burst. This torture is specifically named as inspired by the devil. But the wheel bursts. The coverts of Juliana are all beheaded, a foreshadowing of Juliana's fate. She is burned,  then put inside a vessel full of boiling pitch. Like Katherine and Margaret, she also takes control of her narrative by determining when she will be beheaded.
    • As Juliana drags Belial out of the prison and towards the crowd the fact that he "hoots" and "hollars" and "squawks" is emphasized, the noise he makes marked as different from a coherent narrative. This is later countered by Juliana asking people to "listen" and "cry out" as she seeks to speak of her faith one last time before dying.
    • Juliana's narrative is unique in that Sophie comes and takes her body and cares for it, thus continuing the narrative. This in turn changes how we see the ending, placing agency in the hands of women, despite the last five lines specifically noting the narrator/writer/translator is a man.

Codex Bodmer 127 044v Detail
In addition to the idea of written narrative in the form of torture, there's the idea of proselytizing and speech as narrative.
  • Katherine debates.
  • Margaret speaks of being a martyr.
  • Juliana has an extended display of faith through speech when she argues the fiend, the devil, Belial (interestingly though not part of this article, but the devil is named, but also called "unwiht," "unholy" and "deovel." Her speech, her faith, her argument is so strong she can defeat the devil.
    • The devil is also associated with "weorc" and "crafte" which are historical markers. But he's also called a "thurs" which I've never encountered.
So there are some takeaways here. The first is the overarching metaphor of writing, and speaking, and presenting a narrative and all the forms these take in each hagiography. Then there's the way that these narratives evolve in response to, as a counter to a specifically demonic patriarchal authority.

Using the theory of tattoos, I can argue how each of these hagiographies follow these tropes of heavily tattooed women:
  • cross a socially accepted line
    • Katherine, Margaret, Juliana all do this when they make the conscious decision to counter patriarchal norms.
  • violate gender norms
    • Heavily tattooed women are often asked, "why would you do that to yourself?" In many ways we can see these hagiographies in the same way. Each of these women had a choice to live normal lives that conformed to authority and expectations. They violate these norms and thus their bodies end up not as objects of beauty but as objects of torture.
  • perform a narrative publicly
    • The speeches of each, against authority and/or demons, is their public performance of faith. In addition to this the torture that is written on their bodies is a performance of both their faith and the authority attempting to reinscribing norms on their bodies for all to see. 
So those are my notes. I think this is roughly how I'll outline the article. The theoretical basis is applying the theory tattoo, and the next step is to dive into scholarship of what's already been done with the idea of hagiographies and narratives, torture as writing, etc.

The other two pieces in the Katherine Group I will not address as neither is a hagiography, one is a how to stay a virgin piece, and the other a sort of morality tale, neither of which fit. However, what I may do, depending how this susses out, is look at other versions of Katherine, Margaret, and Juliana's tales and see if this torture as narrative trope holds up or whether I'm just making an argument about the Katherine Group.

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