Feb 28: History and Topography of Ireland

In the first part of Gerald of Wales’ History and Topography of Ireland, he describes various animals native to Ireland and their characteristics. He often follows these descriptions with comparisons to humans and the Christian faith. What purpose do these comparisons serve? Is Gerald attempting to create an association between nature and Christianity? Is he bringing a Christian touch to “heathen” lands? Or is he simply moralizing for the sake of moralizing?

One thought on “Feb 28: History and Topography of Ireland

  1. I don’t know if I would say that he’s creating an association between nature and Christianity so much as he is describing associations he believes to be already there. We’ve talked before in this class about how people in the Middle Ages valued an encyclopedic knowledge and understanding of the world, and a sense that everything had its own place and its own purpose. This, to me, seems like yet another instance of that general trend. Gerald is pointing to the meaning that he believes dwells in all of nature, and the moral/rational perfection he sees in creation. While some of his meanings seem like a bit of a stretch (I’m thinking about his moral drawn from the crane that carried the stone in its foot to keep from sleeping), for the most part I think he’s rather skilled and quick-witted in his ability to draw these parallels, regardless of whether you agree with the interpretations he puts forth.

    So no, I don’t think he’s moralizing for the sake of moralizing, nor do I get the impression that his writing is missional, either. Though his descriptions contain lots of errors and claims that seem ridiculous, I get the sense that he writes with a strong interest in the world around him, describing it as he sees and understands it. The text has, to me, much more the feel of a catalogue of nature than of a sermon.

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