• Allegories of Sight: Blinding and Power in Late Anglo-Saxon England

    Author(s):
    Matthew Firth (see profile)
    Date:
    2016
    Group(s):
    Early Medieval, Medieval Studies
    Subject(s):
    Anglo-Saxon studies, Corporal punishment, Hagiography, Legal history, Medieval, Medieval England, Medieval history
    Item Type:
    Article
    Tag(s):
    Kingship, medieval law
    Permanent URL:
    http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/h3wr-n604
    Abstract:
    The practical necessity of sight to effective participation in Anglo-Saxon life is reflected in the multifaceted depictions of punitive blinding in late Anglo-Saxon literature. As a motif of empowerment or disempowerment, acts of blinding permeate the histories and hagiographies of the eleventh and twelfth centuries and each narrative mode illuminates different societal attitudes to the practice. These narratives reflect a social discomfort and lack of evidence for a prevalent culture of punitive blinding, alongside a growing acceptance in late Anglo-Saxon England of the measure as a practical penalty. As a codified legal punishment, blinding was reserved for recidivist criminals: mutilation punished while preserving the soul for the redemption of repentance. An eleventh-century legal innovation, the histories and chronicles relating events of this period similarly display a growing acceptance of blinding as a practical expedient deprivation of personal political agency. In contrast, the trope of blinding in hagiographical narrative frequently displays a social commentary that opposes these political and legal powers. Blindings, attempted blindings and healings are motifs used to correct the wrongs of temporal agents and bestow God's favour upon a saint. The conflicting narratives demonstrate the conflicted attitude to blinding inherent in a culture that considered sight as a vehicle for power.
    Metadata:
    Published as:
    Journal article    
    Status:
    Published
    Last Updated:
    1 year ago
    License:
    All Rights Reserved
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