Thursday, May 22, 2008

Political hunting:"Fabulous beasts can only be slain by fabulous humans."

At the Kalamazoo Medieval Congress I snatched up at a very reasonable price the single display copy of Thomas T. Alllsen's The Royal Hunt in Eurasian History.

My interest was simple. I had noticed in my recent teaching of ancient history that monarchs of nearly every culture we touched on were routinely depicted as mighty hunters. I got into the habit of telling my students "here is so-and-so as Gilgamesh," referring to one of the earliest examples of such depiction. Similarly, in teaching world history I was fascinated by all the pictures left by North Indian and Central Asian monarchs of their hunting exploits and what looked like huge picnics.

I finally had some time today to look at Allsen's book and I'm glad bought it. It is an elegantly written, wide-ranging exploration of how hunting, a practical and high prestige activity through most of history, has also served as a symbol of royal control over nature, and the strength and accomplishment of monarchs. I look forward to having a chance to read it thoroughly.

The environmental historian joining our department in the fall, Dean Bavington, has worked on fishing as hunting versus fishing as modern managed economic activity. I wonder if he'd like to have this book in our collection when he gets here?

1 comment:

  1. This is a take on the royal hunt I've not ecnountered before; such medievalists as I know who look at this stuff are keener to emphasise the role of the hunt as male bonding and simulation of warfare under the king's orders, which is obviously an important symbology of power and authority; but the rule of nature makes more sense of the various romances involving almost supernatural animals being hunted, like the White Stag... I should have maybe thought of this myself, but it's nice to have someone else do it for one :-)

    Meanwhile, watch out for yourself in the lands of the blessed...

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