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A Natural History of Ravishment

A Natural History of Ravishment

(p.120) Four A Natural History of Ravishment
Renaissance Posthumanism
Holly Dugan
Fordham University Press

“A Natural History of Ravishment” examines how the human and Renaissance humanism depend for definition upon forms of sexual violence. In tracing the idea of a test of humanity from medieval romance to early modern natural history, this chapter exposes how gendered notions of species distinction are. When Alexander and his knights are confronted by a wild man, they respond by taking a young damsel, stripping her naked, and setting her before the creature. This is a test of the creature’s humanity. When the swine-man tries to ravish the damsel, Alexander and his knights beat him, bind him to a tree, and burn him for failing the test even as his brutality resonates with Alexander’s own conquests. Natural history texts of the Renaissance—Conrad Gessner’s influential Historiae Animalium (1558) and Edward Topsell’s A History of Foure-Footed Beastes (1607)—present Alexander as a patron of naturalist treatises by fusing representations of him as a proto-scientist with his legacy of conquest. As a result, what were once fables of medieval wild men becomes “facts” about rapacious Indian apes.

Keywords:   Alexander the Great, animal, Conrad Gessner, human, humanism, natural history, ravishment, sexual difference, species distinction, Edward Topsell

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