Feb 28: Gerald of Wales, Pt. 1

The introduction mentions various faults of Gerald, even stating that “it is usual to use hard words of Giraldus” (17). But the introduction also recognizes that without him, we wouldn’t know nearly as much about Ireland.

Where in the text do Gerald’s faults come through, and what does this add or detract from the text? Do you think that his attitudeĀ reveals anything about medieval attitudes towards nature in general, or is he to be taken as just one bad guy?

5 thoughts on “Feb 28: Gerald of Wales, Pt. 1

  1. Gerald is recognized as an important medieval writer for his works and the places he has been. I do not think he is portrayed as a bad guy, merely a flawed one. Numerous times, his character is portrayed as judgmental and outspoken at the wrong times. One of the most important flaws to the narrator of Gerald’s life is his ability to write. “For the moment we must agree that, however fascinating they may be, there are too many of these ‘notabilia’ and they detract from the artistic unity of his book (44). Of all his flaws, Gerald’s main defect applies to the text at hand as a writer, not his moral quality as a man.

  2. Gerald is undoubtedly a rhetorically talented and essential author as the introduction states, however I noticed several interesting quirks to his writing throughout the First Part. I found his attitude towards “the East”, referring to human nature rather than traditional nature, to be particularly interesting, as well as a bit harsh. It can be inferred from how he speaks of “the silk worm” and “precious metals” and “aromatic spices” that he is referring to far Eastern territories, most likely in modern day Asia (54). He speaks of the way the “well of poisons brims over” in these areas, and that “all the elements in the East…threaten [man’s] wretched life” (56, 54). While these frankly racist and discriminatory thoughts may not have been uncommon in his era, I still found that his stark prejudice stuck me, and made me wary of his credibility in determining the value and analogies of other aspects of Ireland.

  3. In a way, Gerald reminds me of Abelard from Abelard and Heloise. He seems kind of cocky, for lack of better terms. One specific detail that harkens to Abelard, for me, is on page 15 of the prologue when John J. O’Meara writes, “Giraldus tells us that he [Archbishop Baldwin] never tired at its [“Topography of Ireland”] reading. He read it thoroughly. The bishop was particularly attracted by the elegance of the style, and the aptness of the allegorical moralizations.” Since we are getting this from Gerald, we can assume he is “tooting his own horn,” and thinks himself a great writer. However, the fact that we are reading it this far in the future must speak to its timelessness.

    • Since this blog won’t let me edit my post, and since I just now realized this question is specifically asking about part 1, let me extend my previous statement by saying: On page 42, there is an example of when Gerald gets “cocky” and makes a statement that seems not only racist, but just odd to put in a scholarly writing, “Pause, unhappy Jew! Pause– even if it be late.” Not only is he exemplifying the Christian hostility towards the Jewish, but he is also asserting his authority here, whether acceptable to, or not.

  4. From the reading of the introduction I had expected Gerald to be more disparaging of the Irish people and their land. While he does make some unflattering comments in this regard, it was less of a detraction from his writing than the overarching religious tones. The way he equates every species of bird and animal to some holy or unholy idea makes it seem as though he doesn’t care about the actual wild life, which makes him a less reliable source. I think this is a prevalent attitude in medieval times, to ascribe human or religious ideas to nature in order to make these ideas seem more natural (or because these ideas seem so natural in the first place). It doesn’t necessarily make him a ‘bad guy’ at least in contemporary contexts, but to us modern readers it just comes off as biased and as you said a detraction from his work as a whole.

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