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A Natural History of Ravishment

A Natural History of Ravishment

Chapter:
(p.120) Four A Natural History of Ravishment
Source:
Renaissance Posthumanism
Author(s):
Holly Dugan
Publisher:
Fordham University Press
DOI:10.5422/fordham/9780823269556.003.0004

“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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