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Document Type:Latin Dissertation
Language of Document:English
Record Number:55673
Doc. No:TL25627
Call number:‭3387035‬
Main Entry:Alexander Carlos Wolfe
Title & Author:In the belly of the Tartar beast: The Mongols and the medieval English culinary imaginationAlexander Carlos Wolfe
College:The University of Chicago
Date:2009
Degree:Ph.D.
student score:2009
Page No:183
Abstract:This dissertation begins by exploring the literary background of the Mongols in the Western imagination, especially the complex of stories developed around the apocalyptic writings of Pseudo-Methodius. Originally a response to the Islamic expansion of the 7th century, these prophecies were quickly adapted to the Mongols when a new invader appeared from the East. The supposed diet of the Mongols was one of the most important factors supporting this identification, although a careful reading shows that details from Pseudo-Methodius were often inserted to embellish accounts of the "Tartar" invaders. My contention, however, is that this misidentification is not truly a mistake, for Pseudo-Methodius and the medieval image of the Mongols both belong to a cultural tradition of hostility between agricultural peoples and their pastoral neighbours. This continuity is partly obscured to the extent that it is carried unchallenged into modern culture: in order to address it, we have to admit how much of the farmer's prejudice we still hold towards the "barbaric" nomads. In the three chapters which follow, I take up a series of themes for which there is good evidence on both the English and the Mongol sides: hunting, warfare, and luxury foods. In the case of hunting, I show how in both societies the elaborate élite hunts did not feed anyone in the usual sense, for they consumed resources much greater than they produced, but instead were an important display of the ruling group's strength, both economic and military. Also in both societies, élite hunting became a focus of rebellion and conflict--in the case of Mongol China the destruction of the Imperial game parks was a triumph of the Ming revolution, while in late medieval England the rebels of 1381 made forest laws and privileges a central point in their complaints. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Chaucer's The Book of the Duchess, and The Parlement of the Thre Ages are some of the important literary texts used in this chapter. In the chapter on warfare, I venture into the very unsettled question of what Mongol armies actually ate when on campaign, while comparing the reports of their diet to the behaviour of medieval Western armies. I find that atrocity stories were widely told on all sides, and sometimes encouraged by their subjects in order to inflate their reputations. At the same time, there is an enduring suspicion that armies from distant lands ate raw or disgusting foods; I explore the medieval and modern resonances of this idea. In this discussion I use the rich literature of the Third Crusade, along with other literary and historical sources. Finally, I address the subject where many studies of medieval food both begin and end: élite food practices. In England, I follow the adoption of cane sugar as an increasingly important food, and show how its progress is jointly determined by economic, religious and medical considerations. Sugar displaces other sweeteners, especially honey, and part of my project is to show how in the central middle ages England becomes part of an ever larger long-distance trade in foodstuffs, not unlike the globalization of food production we experience today. On the Mongol side I study the introduction of tea, which is often characterized as a "civilized" beverage which the nomads are grateful to adopt in favour of their fermented dairy beverages. I reject this view, showing instead that the tea trade was mostly an attempt by an agricultural society (China) to create a better balance of trade in a commodity it lacked (horses). There was no real "gap" in the Mongol culinary scheme, and when tea was finally adopted as part of a movement toward Buddhism it was prepared in a distinctly Mongol fashion. Through these several comparisons of hunting, warfare and luxury foods, I demonstrate that tensions between sedentary societies and nomads, and between élites and subjugated groups, can often be elucidated through the representation of food and drink, sometimes with surprising results.
Subject:Social sciences; Language, literature and linguistics; Medieval food; Medieval hunting; Medieval trade; Medieval warfare; Mongols; Tartar; English; Hunting; Trade; Warfare; Medieval literature; Medieval history; British and Irish literature; 0593:British and Irish literature; 0297:Medieval literature; 0581:Medieval history
Added Entry:M. Murrin
Added Entry:The University of Chicago