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Latin epic poetry, parody, hagiography


Considered the first great expression of medieval Latin beast epic, the Ysengrimus, a mid-twelfth-century poem of 6,574 verses, has been hailed as a masterpiece of lampooning monastic parody and wit. Composed by an anonymous author (probably a monk of St. Peter's, Blandigny) in the environs of the then burgeoning Flemish city of Ghent, the poem follows the exploits of Ysengrimus, a ravenous wolf-monk of dubious intelligence whose unruly gastric and sexual appetites make him more often the prey than predator in his sundry endeavors. Until now, one area that has successfully eluded the attention of most Ysengrimus scholars is the poem's highly involved parody of hagiographical motifs. Even Jill Mann, the poem's acclaimed critical translator and the one scholar who comes closest to identifying the major components of this type of parody, overlooks the peculiar hagiographical context of such features as Ysengrimus's amazing regenerative powers, his strange mode of death, the semi-autonomous existence of his body parts, and the poem's inversion of predator-prey relationships. Rather than Mann's "anachronistic comparison with the world of animal cartoon," a more useful analogy would be relating these features to the medieval cult of the holy.