Headless Men and Hungry Monsters: the Anglo-Saxons and their “Others”
Asa Simon Mittman
Paper given at Stanford University on March 13, 2003
Anglo-Saxon England was a deeply multi-cultural society, composed of Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Britons and Romans. To provide some measure of national unity, authors and artists cast their gazes outward to disparate Others. Perhaps more than any other medieval society, the Anglo-Saxons focused on a host of monsters believed to inhabit distant Africa and Asia: The dog-headed, fire-breathing cynocephali, one-footed sciopods, wonderful headless, mindless, possibly soulless blemmyes, and many others. These creatures, along with a fantastic host of dragons, ogres and elves, populated the Anglo-Saxon world with a very real presence. In this discussion, I deconstruct their very careful, consciously constructed bodies – freakish, hybrid bodies that, in turn, render the bodies of their viewers as stable and normal.