Volume 5 "CACSSS 2012" (2014)

"CACSSS 2012" Editorial Board

Academic Editor

Orla Murphy


Marie-Luise Theuerkauf


Ronan Kaczynski, Universität Frankfurt a. M., Germany

Editorial Board

Aimie Brennan, Department of Sociology

Leslie Burton, School of Music and Theatre

Raymond Davidson, School of Sociology and Philosophy

Colin Duggan, Study of Religions

Kara Hanley, School of History

H. Pierre Hsieh, Texts, Contexts and Cultures

Caitlin Jacobs, MA Applied Linguistics

Brendan Lyons, MA Digital Humanities

Steven Murphy, School of History

April Gyunghee Park, Department of Sociology

Laura Pomeroy, School of English

Nicole Volmering, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies

UCC affiliates

Gavin Dillon, Department of Early and Medieval Irish

Sarah Flavel, Department of Philosophy

Niamh Nic Conmara, Department of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies

International affiliates

Penelopi Alexandrou, Kingston University, London, United Kingdom

Ciara Barrett, Trinity College Dublin

Anthony Cantor, University of Toronto, Canada

Siún Carden, Queen's University, Belfast, United Kingdom

Elke D’hoker, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium

Stephanie Eggermont,Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium

Carrie Griffin, University of Bristol, United Kingdom

David Lubin, Wake Forest College, NC, United States

Matthew D. Lund, Rowan University, NJ, United States

Elizabeth Mathews, Social Care Practice, Institute of Technology, Tallaght

Marie Mianowski, Université de Nantes, France

Ian Miller, University College Dublin

Dennis Nguyen, University of Hull, United Kingdom

Cian O'Callaghan, National University of Ireland, Maynooth

Russell Ó Ríagáin, University of Cambridge

Eleanora Rao, Universita degli Studi di Salerno, Italy

Maaike Warnaar, University of Leiden, Netherlands

Robert Williams, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA, United States

Aaron L. Willis, University of Notre Dame, IN, United States

Editorial—Marie-Luise Theuerkauf

Editorial — CACSSS 2012 Conference Edition

Marie-Luise Theuerkauf

Department of Early and Medieval Irish/Department of French, UCC

The articles published in the fifth volume of Aigne represent the research findings of postgraduate students of the College of Arts, Celtic Studies and Social Sciences presented at the College’s Postgraduate Conference in November 2012. As the impressive scope of the articles published here shows, the research of UCC students addresses a diverse range of cultural and societal issues, in disciplines such as Art History and History, Social Studies, and Philosophy. The articles of Caoimhín de Bhailís, Lynda Garrett, Francis Kelly, Ann Murray and Timothy O’Sullivan exemplify this diversity.

In his article, “A Reappraisal of Donatello’s Bronze Judith and Holofernes”, Caoimhín de Bhailís offers the reader a unique insight into the world of Renaissance sculpture. De Bhailís investigates the connections between Donatello’s bronze Judith and Holofernes and Scripture, as well as agricultural writings owned by the one of Florence’s most powerful patriarchs, Cosimo de’Medici. He challenges the view that Judith and Holofernes was used to make a political statement of Medici rule; rather he argues that the sculpture and its location represented a means of communicating with God in a contemplative space, highlighting the private, rather than the public side of Cosimo de’Medici.

In “The Student Bullying of Teachers: An Exploration of the Nature of the Phenomenon and the Ways in which it is Experienced by Teacher”, Lynda Garrett presents her findings on the under-studied, and elusive, yet painfully widespread phenomenon of student bullying of teachers. Using the trifecta of intent to harm, repetition and power imbalance, Garrett seeks to define SBT in order to establish effective responses. Her research reveals the multi-faceted nature of SBT, ranging from verbal abuse to damage of property. As Garrett’s article makes clear, SBT is an international concern, requiring adequate empirical study.

Francis Kelly provides an interesting case-study of military discipline in the Spanish navy of the sixteenth century in his “Truth, Honour and Justice: The Military Tribunals of Captain Francisco de Cuéllar 1583/84 and 1588”. His exposé illustrates the connection between harsh military discipline and the perils of the Spanish armada, since authority and control were paramount in times of upheaval. He examines in particular the tribunals for breach of discipline faced by Spanish officer Francisco de Cuéllar, but who, due to his legal skills and rhetoric dexterity, managed to be acquitted of the charges.

Ann Murray’s article “A War of Images: Otto Dix and the Myth of the War Experience” explores representations of soldierhood the art of post-World War I Germany, focusing on the soldier-artist Otto Dix. Dix’s controversial art sought to expose the effects of industrialised warfare on the human body, which the government tried to conceal. Murray shows how the artist’s imagery countered this “mythologizing of soldierhood”, as is evident in Dix’s display of the obscene and revolting.

In “Nietzsche and Montaigne: Dionysian Pessimism”, Timothy O’Sullivan examines the impact of Montaigne’s though on Nietzsche, by postulating that the former’s Essays had a vital impact on the development of Nietzsche’s philosophy. O’Sullivan further argues that Montaigne was, in fact, key to Nietzsche’s concept of Dionysian Pessimism, in which he counters Schopenhauer.

Caoimhín de Bhailís

A Reappraisal of Donatello’s Bronze Judith and Holofernes

Caoimhín de Bhailís

Department of Art History, UCC

Donatello’s bronze grouping, Judith and Holofernes, has been variously described as ‘a metaphor Medici rule’, as a symbol of the female hero usurped by patriarchal agendas, and a representation of the Florentine Republic. The relocations of the sculpture have given rise to much debate in terms of its changing roles, interpretations and significance as an adaptable icon for differing political agendas. In this presentation, I will place the sculpture in its original setting and seek to understand the psychological importance for the patron as I assert it to be. I will argue that the intention of Cosimo de’Medici was neither to present a statement of Medici rule, nor to implicate the family within the ideals of the Florentine state while simultaneously undermining the limited democracy of the republic. Rather, in keeping with the religious drives of the period and within Europe, in keeping with Cosimo’s fear of damnation, his philosophical outlook and discussions and his expansive reading habits; I will look to re-examine and reposition the debates which surround the sculpture and allow for it to be viewed as a religious and spiritual engagement between the patron and the work in the setting in which it was intended to be seen and interacted with. I will explore Cosimo’s attachment to the garden as a contemplative arena. The view of Alberti and Colonna that sees the garden as a “metaphorical and metaphysical” space where one can “commune with God” and the Christian tradition of the garden as a “spiritual, sacred” place lends additional weight to the argument that Cosimo did use this garden as just such a contemplative retreat within the confines of the city. The garden allowed him to both engage in his religious thoughts and his Neo-Platonic musings.

The aim of this paper is to investigate the connections that exist between Donatello’s Judith and Holofernes and biblical texts and commentaries, and writings on agricultural practice known to have been in the possession of Cosimo de’Medici. This approach suggests a redefined interpretation of the sculpture. Cato’s De Agricultura (Brehaut, 1933) and Gregory’s De Moralia along with the Book of Judith will form part of an examination of the sculpture that engages both with the texts and the original location of the sculpture. The location of the work and the various readings and issues which arise from this are reviewed in order to contextualise the proposal that the sculpture in the Palazzo’s garden and the influence the patron’s reading interest offer a new understanding of the relationship between the sculpture and its patron, accepted here as Cosimo de’Medici.[1] In limiting the examination of private, religious concerns to the garden setting, an awareness of the patron’s reading habits needs to be investigated. The line of enquiry being pursued here will call for a bringing together of Cosimo’s literary and gardening interests with his penitential concerns and the text which the sculpture represents.

It is important to state from the outset that debate around themes of patronage and dating of the sculpture persist; it is equally important to state that the argument being presented here relies on the sculpture being in the garden of the Medici Palace prior to Cosimo de’Medici’s death, in 1464, and that he is acknowledged as a possible candidate for the position of patron. The focus for this paper is the sculpture in the garden and the elements of Cosimo’s character and traits that allow a nuanced and innovative approach to the sculpture’s interpretation. The public role of the sculpture after its relocation to the Piazza deli Signoria is outside the remit of the inquiry as in that location the reception and audience alters from that of the statue’s original site.

Firstly, the discourse surrounding dating will be addressed. Firmly linked to the dating of the sculpture is the matter of patronage. Standpoints of various scholars will be reviewed in order to secure the contention that the sculpture can be located in the garden during the period in question. Secondly, the sculpture has been interpreted to conform to various twentieth- and twenty-first-century theoretical frameworks. While these provide a method for the interrogation of any work they also bring their own agendas to bear on the work itself and seek to mould interpretations to a modern viewer’s demands and expectations. These positions will be outlined, not to dismiss them, as they are all valid as a means of academic enquiry, but rather that the reader can be aware of the context in which this project is operating. Thirdly, the location of the sculpture within the Medici Palace complex will be discussed. The relationships with which this project concerns itself will be influenced by the placing of the sculpture in the garden and excluded from the public eye or limited to an invited, close, coterie of the Medici associates. As with dating and patronage, location continues to attract debate, although there is a degree of consensus that has developed. Considering the vast corpus of writing which has evolved since Janson’s The Sculpture of Donatello (1963), it is only to be expected that there will be reappraisals of date, patronage, location and meaning. Finally, the remainder of this article will focus on the motivations of Cosimo de’Medici. This will deal with his religious and moral concerns and how these relate to the sculpture. This paper argues that these concerns are of great importance in any discussion of Judith and Holofernes and that they have been largely side-lined to focus on public, political and gender analysis of the work. It is crucial to note that in all discussion around the sculpture there is an acceptance that it was in the garden from the late 1450s to 1495. It is interesting that, given the efforts to make Judith and Holofernes comply with a public role, it is, it seems, invisible to the public eye during this period. The sculpture receives little mention from contemporary observers before 1495; however this may only be a result of non-exposure of archival evidence thus far.

If we follow the chronologies devised by scholars from archival sources relating to the sculpture’s creation, a date in the late 1450s is one with which many are in agreement, (Even, 1992, p.10; Randolph, 2002, p.243; Wilkins, 2010, p.137). It is part of the enigma of the sculpture that there are still no clear and precise dates as there is no record of a contract for the commission; this may be due to its not having been discovered yet, it may have been destroyed or it may have been an unwritten contract between Cosimo and Donatello. Given the close relationship which existed between both men this is an option which should not be dismissed without evidence discovered to the contrary. However, there must also be recognition of the legal frameworks which operated in Florence around this time and the abundance of contracts that have been unearthed for other large works commissioned by other patrons. Wilkins (2010) constructed a list of work by Donatello for the Medici where the majority of the pieces are presumed commissions due to lack of contract. Wilkins further points out that Donatello’s relationship with his patrons would have allowed him a certain amount of creative input which would have been hindered by specific contractual demands. It may well be the case, as Caglioti (2000) has suggested, that there is no evidence to place the sculpture in the garden until 1464. However, the position remains that if the statue is commissioned by Cosimo, as early as 1457, then the programme and intention, as is asserted here, still hold true.

In his Life of Donatello, Vasari (Bondanella, 1998, p.152) only mentioned Judith and Holofernes after it had been placed in the loggia of the Piazza della Signoria. He referred to the bronze David having been originally in the courtyard of the Medici Palace but does not include Judith in his observation. Current research has placed the sculpture in the garden between two definite dates: in 1495, when it is recorded as having been removed following the exile of Lorenzo de Medici’s son, Piero II in 1494, and earlier than 1464, when it is recorded in the context of a letter of condolence to Piero de’Medici on the death of his father, Cosimo. This letter, while not referring to Judith directly, does include the wording relating to the first inscription found on the sculpture and, in a transcription of this letter, made in 1492, Bartolomeo Fonzio states that these words are to be found on the column beneath the Judith in the Medici courtyard.[2]

There is also debate surrounding the actual making of the sculpture. Janson (1979) has argued that the sculpture was begun in 1457 for the city of Siena and that it was finished as a Medici commission; while Herzner (1980), agreeing with the date, has translated the same source document differently to conclude that it was a Medici commission from the outset, (McHam, 2001, n.5). The basis for dating the sculpture from 1457 lies in an order recorded in Medici and Donato account books that refer to payments for bronze and other materials in 1456 where Judith is mentioned (Bennett and Wilkins 1984, p.82-89). It can be concluded that, without definitive evidence, research points to the sculpture being in the garden from at least 1464 and possibly 1457 and remained there until 1495, with the patron most likely being Cosimo.

While matters of dating and patronage are at issue, so too are meaning and interpretation. The position of this paper is that the sculpture was part of a contemplative holistic space. This is not to deny that there is purchase in the positions adopted by others but rather that the private, pious motivations of Cosimo have been neglected and that these characteristics of the patron provide a basis for this to be considered as a valid engagement with the work.

The Book of Judith lends itself to various interpretations. There can be no doubt that the story served a particular purpose suited to the demands of the time and that visual representations at different times through history have been seen to reflect the malleability of the tale. These flexibilities have been adapted to fit the agendas and programmes of not only patrons and artists but also the art historical community, as it seeks to interpret and reposition visual representations of Judith and Holofernes within certain theoretical viewpoints. It is important to briefly examine other approaches which apply themselves directly to the sculpture by Donatello.

As part of the development of gender based art history, examined by Welch (2000, pp. 201-216), Yael Evens (1991) tied Judith and Holofernes to a gender related programme that reflects the misogynistic nature of renaissance society by evaluating the relocating of the statue from its original site in the Medici Palace. Apart from its removal to the Piazza della Signoria the statue was later moved to the Loggia dei Lanzi, and it underwent further relocations within the Loggia before eventually returning to the Piazza in the early twentieth century where it remains, albeit in the form of a replica.[3] That there is this gendering of the visual retelling of the biblical narrative is not surprising as this has also been pursued with examinations of the text within its biblical setting. Judith’s transformation from a secluded widow in a domestic location to one of sexual assassin in the public domain and eventual return to her roof-top reflects an established patriarchal hierarchy, which is only temporarily usurped for the purpose of salvation by God, using the weapon of a woman’s fatal flaw, the sexual temptress (Levine, 2004, p.208-223). The adoption of this approach to the text has been used as a basis to support a gendered reading of many visual representations of Judith and Holofernes including Donatello’s. This narrowing of interpretation serves only to deny the richness of the theoretical reading that can be applied to the sculpture.

It cannot be denied, however, that the issue of gender relations has become a point of entry into examinations of Judith and Holofernes, whether as text or image. Randolph (2002, 247), in his viewing of Donatello’s Judith in the garden setting, at once sought to distance himself from feminist readings while simultaneously arguing that the statue gained power from a gender related viewpoint. Indeed issues of gender and dating surrounding the other bronze in the Medici Palace, the David, continue to be debated as late as 2012. Randolph’s appraisal of the ‘consensus’ agreeing to a political interpretation of the David is rebutted by Williams (2009), who sees the David  as a sign “of human redemption” and Weller (2012),  who concludes that the sculpture might be seen to represent political agendas but was primarily a sacred and sanctifying object. If it is the case that a pious agenda can be attributed to the David, which was located in a public space and with assertive statements of political intent, then, it is certainly the case that a programme of religious intent can be applied to Judith and Holofernes which is situated in a private space more readily associated with pious contemplation.

In addition to gendered readings there has been much discussion around the theme of political meaning as the intended purpose of the sculpture. What follows are just two interpretations applied to the bronze grouping revolving around the political and dynastic agenda of the Medici family. McHam (2001) calls for a unified consideration of both the David and Judith because of their co-location within the Palazzo de’Medici and because of their iconographic similarities. For McHam (2001) the bronze pair functioned as evocations of ‘republican themes’, which held currency with the city, that were used to associate, and secure the Medici as part of the republic’s anti-tyrannical identity. The David and Judith had been associated with each other prior to their installation in the Palazzo; they featured close to each other on Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise. Support for the coupling of both sculptures as having political intentions derives not just from their biblical roles as defenders of nations but from the inscriptions on the bases. The David carried the inscription:

"The victor is whoever defends the fatherland. God crushes the wrath of an enormous foe. Behold! A boy overcame a great tyrant. Conquer, o citizens!"

This echoes a similar inscription associated with Donatello’s earlier marble David:

 “To those who fight strongly for the fatherland, God lends aid even against the most terrible foes.” (Kent, 2000, p.283).

There are two inscriptions associated with the Judith both of which were present on the sculpture while it was present in the Medici garden:

“Kingdoms fall through luxury, cities rise through virtues. Behold the neck of pride severed by the hand of humility”

“The salvation of the state, Piero de’Medici son of Cosimo dedicated this statue of a woman both to liberty and to fortitude, whereby the citizens with unvanquished and constant heart might return to the republic.”(Randolph, 2002, p.252).

It is clear that the inscriptions place David in the role of defender of liberty and the “fatherland” and securely link him with Florentine republican ideals. Through appropriation of both the image and the inscription, within the semi-private place of the Palazzo courtyard, the Medici aligned themselves with these ideals. In the second of the two Judith inscriptions it is evident that a similar attempt is being made by Piero to strengthen this Medicean assertion of their position as a dynasty with a symbiotic relationship with the commonwealth of the city at large. This politicisation of Judith is no more than a hiatus in her role. Lucrezia, Piero’s wife reverses this when she writes of the Judith narrative in a private, moral mode (Adams & Pernis, 2006, 122-4) and Judith is cast once more in her traditional role.

It is evident that the inscriptions play a role in the interpretations associated with both sculptures. However, while the David wording cannot escape political connotation and the second Judith inscription is tied to an overtly republican agenda, the original statement attached to Judith might speak to additional motivations.

The first statement on the Judith can be linked with a moralistic and theological message in addition to that of Florentine politics. That is not to imply that there have been no interpretations which fasten the sculpture to a political drive (McHam being but one example) nor indeed is it to insist that there is a divide between the moral and the political, the private and the public in Florentine art and society.  Crum (2001) argued that the use of Judith could have served to remind the Florentine populace of the need for humility to succeed above pride in order for harmony to prevail in the city and that the Medici had demonstrated their adherence to the virtue of humility. The use of the sculpture in the main square by the republic, where Donatello’s marble David had once stood, is an overt adoption and revaluation of Judith as exclusively a public, political symbol rather than a private, moral, theological herald with political resonances. Judith, after the expulsion of the Medici and her transfer to the Palazzo in 1495, replaces the David as an exemplar of the Florentine republic’s virtuous role as defender against tyranny.  Crum linked pride and humility with the city and political machinations. However, it is argued here that, for Cosimo il Vecchio, the demonstration of humility as victorious over pride had also a much more personal and religious significance.

Regardless of the debates surrounding the sculpture, it is accepted that both the Judith and the David were present in the Medici Palace at the same time and this can be ascertained from the records of their removal by the republican government in 1495. Although it can be securely claimed that both sculptures were in the Palace, records do not exist, or at least have not been revealed as of now, to demonstrate that they were commissioned to co-exist in the space. Issues of co-location thus do not imply that a single, motivation existed to impart a direct relationship between the two sculptures other than that which can be derived from their moral and narrative similarities within a biblical and religious context. While there is an acceptance that debate around meaning will jointly consider the sculptures as a result of their narrative similarities, this does not demonstrate that, at the point of conception, the two works are tied to a unified programme of functionality. As Turner (1997, p.156) suggested, given the separation in date of their making, “[…] the iconography linking them may be an afterthought arrived at when the second sculpture was executed.”

As there is no evidence to suggest a joint programme then there is no compunction to address the sculptures as part of a single decorative drive by the patron. Neither can it be confidently asserted that the collocation inside the Medici Palace occurred in a shared space. The different locations of the sculptures conspire to separate their unity as a single programme. The David was situated in the courtyard whose portal opened up onto the main thoroughfare running from San Marco to the Cathedral along which the Confraternita dei Magi walked in procession on the Feast of the Epiphany, and of which Cosimo was a member (Kent 2006, p.158). The David was therefore viewable from a main axis of the city when the gates were open and so may be considered to be part of the public aspect of the building. Additionally, the courtyard acted as a waiting area for those seeking audience with the Medici family or those invited to participate in occasions organised by the Medici in their household. The courtyard contained loggia with benches set into them, allowing people to sit and wait to petition the Medici. Triboaldo de’Rossi remarks that, on one occasion, there was a large group of Florentines in the courtyard waiting to see Lorenzo de’Medici (Preyer, 1998, pp.357-8). As such, the David became a feature in the main foyer of the building, greeting those visiting the Palace. Judith was located further into the building complex and separated by a wall in which an arched opening allowed access. In this garden space that offered views of another object of Medicean patronage, the church of San Lorenzo, (from the upper galleries and walkways located above the western entrance on the Borgo San Lorenzo), Judith is denied the full public access of the David and is secreted behind enclosing walls in the garden setting (Looper, 1992, 257). The David is not only separated from Judith by the walled enclosures but acts as a separating device by obscuring the line of vision from the Via Larga to the garden. The archway between the two spaces was also smaller than the present opening and would have caused a reduction of the visual access from the main street to the rear garden.[4]

Further questions regarding the exact location and function have been raised by Caglioti (2000) who dismisses the notion that the sculpture functioned as a fountain due to there being no internal piping in the statue. He suggests that the holes in the corner of the pillow on which Holofernes lies were probably sockets that contained decorative tassels rather than outlet spouts.  This may be the case but this does not discount the proposal, from Ames-Lewis (1989, 240-1, n.10), that Judith may have been installed on an existing fountain. This suggestion is also dismissed by Caglioti due to the sculpture’s size. Both Ames-Lewis and Caglioti suggest that the Judith was not on the central axis from the Via Larga, at the front of the Palazzo, to the Borgo San Lorenzo, at the rear, with Caglioti moving the sculpture to the northern section of the garden (McHam, 44, n.8). This proposal that the sculpture was removed from a direct line of sight from the surrounding streets adds credence to the view that the bronze grouping was intended for a private role within the garden.

Ames-Lewis (1989, p.251) has said of the bronze David that any new interpretation serves to demonstrate its ambiguities; this is even more true of the Judith. The biblical source for Judith is open to a variety of interpretations and thus any visual representation will have opportunities to express this narrative in a freer manner but with a further layering of interpretive strata. It is because of this multivalency that it becomes clear that the sculpture, within the original setting of the Palazzo Medici garden, operates nearer the conceptual framework of the patron.

There have been examinations of Judith’s relationship with the surrounding garden and the dialogue that takes place between Cosimo and the sculpture and its private location. Looper (1992), for example, investigated Judith and the garden and the meanings that could be extracted from an investigation of garden imagery and its associations with Paradise. However, the conclusion that Looper reached is again one of political and princely intention and reception. As we are dealing, then, with an Edenic setting, and given the significance of such during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance for private contemplation, it seems that there should also be an engagement with this aspect of the sculpture’s significance in the garden setting. As Cosimo’s religious and moral concerns, and his reading habits show an intense interest in moral interpretation of the bible, it is argued here that to fully expound upon the role of the sculpture’s many aspects then the private, personal import of the statue must also be addressed.

Donatello’s Judith does not address the totality of the biblical narrative but rather remains in the stasis of one frozen moment in the story. It is an inter-climactic point between the first and second strokes that bring about the separation of Holofernes’ head from his body. However, it is also in this one moment that the conquering of humility over pride is achieved. Judith had foretold this moment earlier in the Book of Judith, (9:12) when she prays ‘that his pride may be cut off by his own sword’. It is also an action which is a glorious monument to God’s aid in a time of need. The sculpture manifests itself both as a moment of action within the text and also a fulfilment of the prophecy of the text in becoming a monument to the word.

Cosimo was a man in need of God’s aid; his banking practice aroused his concern for his soul due to a reliance on usury. His previous patronage of the Convent of San Marco had arisen from this anxiety (da Bisticci, 1997, pp.218-219). Besides the sin of usury, Cosimo would have been conscious of his father’s advice on humility (Cavalcanti, 1838 cited in Ross, 1911, 6) and he knew that to preserve his earthly riches he would need ‘to turn to pious ways’ (da Bisticci, p.219). This desire to be penitential for his usury and his attempts to remain humble while being extremely wealthy are all given the opportunity to be meditated upon by the sculpture in the garden. It is also clear that the garden setting was of significance for Cosimo given his own history.

Cosimo participated in the farming practices on his estates outside of Florence and was involved in the laying out of the garden at San Marco, (da Bisticci, pp.224-225). This interest is not only supported by Vespasiano da Bisticci but also by Cosimo’s reading practices. The records compiled by Ullman (1972) of the collection in the San Marco library, owned or acquired by Cosimo, provide ample evidence for Cosimo’s reading around agricultural, as well as his interest in moral philosophy and religion. From this catalogue we learn that Cosimo had in his procession Cato’s De Agricultura as well as Varro’s De Rustica. What is extremely interesting for the purpose of exploring the holistic nature of Judith and Holofernes in the garden at Via Larga is that in the preface to his book on farming Cato immediately confronts the issue of usury. Not alone does Cato condemn the usurer as being worse than a thief but Cicero in his De Officiis further quotes Cato’s attitude to usury, likening it to manslaughter. Cicero’s book was amongst Cosimo’s collection and would surely have been consulted by him. Further, Cosimo also held a copy of Plutarch’s Lives that also recorded Cato, (Ullman 1972, pp.310,78,82 also Giannetto, 2008, p.34).[5] Cato’s modest lifestyle and praise of farming and cultivation of the land in an ordered way would have had a direct and meaningful resonance with Cosimo. As a reflection of the values of republican Rome, both Cato and Varro espouse the connections that exist between the private, moral world and the duty to the republic. It must not be forgotten that Cosimo’s ancestors came from a rural, farming background, (Giannetto, 2008, pp.13-14). Cosimo is, thus, rooted in the practical engagement with agriculture, accessing a moral code that can be extracted from pagan precedence that echoed his private and public duties. Vespasiano reminds of how Cosimo could find moral guidance, for both himself and others, in this immersion in horticultural practice. According to Vespasiano, Cosimo used to say “that in a garden there grew a weed which should never be watered but left dry up…This weed was that worst of all weeds, Envy”, (da Bisticci, p.234).   

We can see that the dichotomies that are inherent in the Judith and Holofernes narrative of vice and virtue, humility and pride find their way into Cosimo’s quotidian life as he struggled to maintain an image fitting the Florentine republic’s expectations of a wealthy citizen maintaining a moral position that did not encourage envy or fall prey to the temptations of vainglory. His escape from this clash of humility over pride, display and suppression could be achieved within a secluded, private space.

Envisaging the garden within the Palace as an enclosed space, it operates as “a spiritual place in which the human spirit can commune with God” (Venturi, 1991, pp.88-91). The walls, which enclosed the garden in the Palazzo, and the separation of the garden from the courtyard point towards the use of the garden for this very purpose. Like mendicant communities that operated within the broader society and retained spaces of private contemplation, Cosimo echoes this in his active public life and his private piety in enclosed spaces such as his cell in San Marco and the garden in the Palazzo. The layout of the garden is close in design to monastic cloister enclosures; for example a comparison can be made between San Marco and the Via Larga garden. The cloistered life was a means for the religious, monastic communities to isolate themselves, or temporarily retreat, from the profane world. Honorius states that “the solitude of the cloister truly exhibits an image of heaven” (Comito, 1978, p.48), and the decision to create such an environment within the Palazzo, a building with public, although invited, access reinforces the notion that Cosimo was seeking such an escape from his temporal concerns. The sculpture participates in this environment by providing a focal point for Cosimo’s meditations on the sins of pride and envy and acts as a counterbalance to his practice of usury, as indicated by Cato in his preface. Aquinis’ Summa Theologica (Fathers of the English Dominican Province, 1947, 1518), also in the San Marco library (Ullman, 1972, p.170), discusses the sin of usury at length and how it must be seen as a sin. As Cosimo negotiated with Pope Eugenius IV for an expiation of his sins through the patronage of San Marco, he brings the same matters of conscience with him to the sculpture and the garden (da Bisticci, p.218).

The garden creates a space for theological reflection but the narrative of the Book of Judith, as reflected in the sculpture, is precise in the sins which it wishes to address. Pride is a theme which runs through the biblical story and this would surely have found purchase in Cosimo’s thoughts. This must be especially true given his father’s advice on maintaining a low profile and not arousing envy (Ross, 1911, p.6). The sin of pride is mentioned directly four times in the Book of Judith (6:15, 8:17, 9:12 and 13:28) and the Summa (1947, pp.1854-1861) addressing the sin of pride with reference to St. Gregory’s De Moralia. Da Basticci (1997, p.225) informs us that Cosimo read all the books of De Moralia over a six-month period. The Judith, both iconographically and narratively, demonstrates similarities between the Book of Judith and De Moralia.      

Throughout De Moralia, we find references which are reflected in the Book of Judith, Donatello’s bronze, and in the earlier of the inscriptions, “Kingdoms fall through luxury, cities rise through virtues. Behold the neck of pride severed by the hand of humility”[6] Pride, for Gregory, and reflected in Aquinas, is one of the principal vices and “pride and vain glory render obedience to the will of Satan”[7] Holofernes is equated with the Devil and his temptations by Wind (1937, pp.62-63). Further, in Gregory, the neck is mentioned with pride on more than one occasion: “the sinner scorns to obey the precepts of the Lord, when he erects the neck of pride, and shuts the mind’s eyes to the light of truth” (11:15), and explicitly, “As the sight is used to be denoted by the eye, so is pride by the ‘neck.” Thus “the neck is brought down to the mire, when every proud man is humbled in death, and the flesh that was lifted up rots in corruption.”(11.43). It is worth noting that the horse was taken to be a symbol of superbia, or pride, and the medallion which hangs from Holoferne’s neck depicts a horse (McHam, 2001, p.35). (The issue of the medallion is the subject of further research being addressed in the thesis this paper forms part of.)  If, then, Holofernes is Pride and Judith the representation of Humility which overcomes him, we can assert that the vice against which Cosimo’s father spoke out on his deathbed, (and which the writings of Gregory and Aquinas denounced), is represented in the form of the sculpture based on the Book of Judith. Removed from the public arena to the private secluded garden space, it is clear that the sculpture in this setting acts as a focal point of pious contemplation and reflection around these concerns.

The garden as a contemplative space would have been familiar to Cosimo from his involvement in San Marco. The Christian associations of the enclosed garden with Paradise would have been known to him through his reading and agricultural practices. Masson (1961, p.13) traces the Renaissance ideal of the garden as a contemplative space back to Plato’s Academy, and Petrarch, a century before Cosimo, believed the garden to be “the proper setting for a poet and a man of learning” (Masson, 1961, p.7). Cosimo’s Neo-Platonic translator and friend, Ficino, also recommends that “gardens and groves… [be of] constant companionship [for] agreeable men” (Ficino, 1988, 4:98). In the same letter, Ficino points out that greens and reds were of particular importance for meditation and we know, from Hatfield (1970, pp.232-249), of some of the flora present in the garden, described by a Milanese letter writer as an ‘earthly paradise’ (Hatfield). An anonymous poet wrote, around 1459, of “laurel, myrtle, orange and box…jasmine, violets, roses and lilies, and flowers blue, yellow, white and red” (Hatfield, p.234). If ‘box’ is the common European boxwood used in topiary then there is both green and red flora in the garden at this time. However, the colours of the plants hold further significance. According to Kent (2006, p.300) violets stood for humility and roses for the Virgin. Judith and Holofernes is thus located in a surrounding with multiple religious reference points external to the sculpture itself. The flora and the enclosing walls all point to an ‘earthly paradise’ and a meditative space. The garden and sculpture, with the symbolic connections to theological writings familiar to Cosimo and his concerns for his soul, conspire to present a holistic, religious experience in which he can participate.

In the Book of Judith, the heroine leaves her private dwelling to perform a public act as a result of the threat to her nation. She later returns to the private setting to contemplate and pray. She was forced into a public role to combat pride, but it is not a role in which she was destined to remain. Donatello’s Judith and Holofernes begins as a contemplative device in the garden setting but is forced into a public role by her removal from the Palace to the Piazza in 1495. Her role remains attached to the public and political drives that are reflected in the inscriptions placed upon the sculpture. It is the initial inscription that defines her intentional role within the garden setting and, as asserted here, at the point of conception for the patron. Attempts to usurp this private role failed in the secluded arena, as there are no public descriptions or commentaries about the sculpture until after its relocation to the public space. While scholarly research and debate continues to focus on a politicisation of the sculpture, based on the inscriptions and public reception, this public reception is limited while the sculpture is in the garden setting.[8] The religious motivations for the sculpture’s commissioning does, however, provide its own justification by drawing on the demands of the private aspects of the individual to meditate on his pious concerns. While this paper has omitted to investigate in a comprehensive manner the late–medieval and early Renaissance practices of gardening and the religious implications of such practices, it can be seen that Cosimo’s reading did form a connection with both the garden and his religious concerns. The deeper meaning of the garden’s role and its symbolic value for the contemplative life form part of the wider programme of research of which this paper is just a part. It is certain that much of the evidence to support this assertion is already available, yet it is directed towards conclusions which focus on public, political meanings that place the additional motivations of moral, private and religious concerns, (that were as important and closely attached to political statements and actions in Renaissance Florence), in a lesser, or non-role, in examining Judith and Holofernes. This paper hopes to have redressed this imbalance and to have created an environment for debate to include aspects that find greater sympathy with the mores of the individual in the early Renaissance and allow for examinations of Judith and Holofernes that explore private, moral concerns as much as public, political implications.


[1] These texts are available on-line and the versions referred to in this article are:

[2] The sculpture can thus be located in the garden from as early as 1464. For further discussion on the dating of the sculpture see: Sperling, ‘Donatello’s Bronze ‘David’ and the demands of Medici Politics’, The Burlington Magazine, 1992. In addition McHam discusses the documents referred to by Sperling in ‘Donatello’s ‘David’ and ‘Judith’: Metaphors of Medici Rule’, The Art Bulletin, 2001, n. 2, Crum, without referring to documentation, states that “Donatello’s Judith is generally dated to the mid-1450s”, ‘Severing the Neck of Pride: Donatello’s ‘Judith and Holofernes’ and the Recollections of Medici Shame in Medicean Florence’, Artibus et Historiae, 2001. While Caglioti produces a comprehensive compendium of the debates around dating and patronage with regard to Judith which includes both previously examined and new research to secure the sculpture in the garden, at least as early as 1464, this is based on the letters which Randolph and others also discuss. The dating of the sculpture has been dependent on letters containing references to the inscriptions on the base, as per the letter mentioned in the text. For more on the documents see Kent, Cosimo de’Medici and the Florentine Renaissance, Yale, 2006, n.244-4, 247 and 253. Caglioti can also be consulted for his interpretations of the inscriptions on the Judith, in Donatello e I Medici. Saggio di storia dell’arte sul David e la Giuditta, Florence, 2000.

[3] The original is located in the Sala dei Gigli, inside the Palazzo Vecchio.

[6] For examination of the inscriptions, see Crum, McHam, Caglioti, Kent and Ames-Lewis.

[8] For further discussion surrounding the possible political messages attached to the sculpture, see Crum, McHam, Caglioti and Looper. 



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Lynda Garrett

The Student Bullying of Teachers: An Exploration of the Nature of the Phenomenon and the ways in which it is experienced by Teachers. 

Lynda Garrett

School of Applied Social Studies, UCC

The student bullying of teachers (SBT) is a distinct, complex and multi-faceted problem which was first empirically examined in the late 1990s by researchers in Finland (Kivivuori, 1996) and in the United Kingdom (Terry, 1998; Pervin and Turner, 1998) who suggested that particular patterns and characteristics of student behaviour towards teachers may be identified as bullying, rather than general disruptive behaviour or violence. SBT is an emerging global issue, yet it is under-recognised in academic, societal and political spheres compared with violence against teachers and other forms of bullying, resulting in limited conceptual understanding and awareness of the phenomenon. An in-depth understanding of SBT is fundamental to establishing an effective response to address the issue. Therefore, this article seeks to advance conceptual understanding and awareness of SBT and to highlight the ways in which the phenomenon may be manifested. The difficulties associated with establishing a definitive definition of SBT are explored under the three central components of a bullying definition –intent to harm, repetition and power imbalance. These components are discussed in relation to the unique qualities and complexities of SBT. The manifestation and prevalence of SBT both in Ireland and in an international context are also explored.


Over the past two decades, academic engagement with the issue of teachers being bullied by students has become more evident in the literature (Lahelma, 1996; Terry, 1998; Pervin and Turner, 1998). However, the topic is still greatly under-researched, with the authors of the most recent U.S. study (Espelage et al., 2013) insisting that the issue is “rarely defined, empirically studied, or meaningfully discussed within academic circles” (Espelage et al., 2011, p.2). The Student Bullying of Teachers (SBT) has also remained virtually absent from both public and political discourse in most countries, resulting in a chaotic piecemeal response from schools and governments (Chen and Astor, 2010) and a sense of isolation and shame amongst victimised teachers (De Wet, 2010). Increasingly international researchers have highlighted the need for greater academic, societal and political awareness and recognition of SBT (e.g. Terry, 1998; Pervin and Turner, 1998; Munn et al., 2004; Khoury-Kassabri et al., 2009; De Wet, 2010; McMahon et al., 2011; Turkum, 2011) as a critical first step in effectively addressing the issue. SBT must be recognised as an emerging global issue rather than the result of individual teachers’ inadequate teaching abilities or character flaws (Munn et al., 2004). There needs to be greater acknowledgement amongst students, teachers, parents, administrators, policy makers and the general public that SBT is “everyone’s problem and responsibility” (Espelage et al., 2013, p.11) and requires an international commitment to tackle the issue. The difficulties associated with the lack of awareness of SBT among the general population have been attributed, in part, to “overly subjective and restrictive views about the nature of bullying” (Terry, 1998, p.256). An in-depth understanding of the phenomenon is central to establishing an effective response to address the issue. Hence, this article seeks to provide a deeper conceptual understanding of the nature of SBT and the ways in which it is manifested. This article opens with a comprehensive examination of the difficulties associated with establishing a definitive definition due to the unique qualities and complexities of this form of bullying. As SBT ultimately involves the bullying of an adult by a child, the three central components of a bullying definition- repetition, intention and power imbalance require further consideration in this context. Contemporary definitions of SBT are presented and an alternative definition which incorporates the complexity of the definitional components is offered. The article then explores the ways in which SBT may be manifested and experienced by teachers, whilst providing an overview of the most prevalent forms of SBT experienced by teachers both internationally and in Ireland. 

Defining SBT within the Bullying Literature

Bullying has proven a complex concept to define, (Boulton, 1995; Madsen, 1997; Sutton, Smith and Swettenham, 1999) primarily because of its multidimensional character and also owing to the fact that researchers have analysed the phenomenon from such a diverse gamut of perspectives. Chan (2009) attributes bullying’s “legacy of confused meanings” and “lack of consensus” amongst researchers to bullying being regarded as “an elusive phenomenon that has defied attempts to define it” (Chan, 2009, p.10). There is, however, a general consensus that bullying is an all-encompassing term which embodies several key factors (Farrington, 1993; Keating, 1998; Rigby, 2002; Ireland, 2008). It is an aggressive behaviour, repeated over a period of time, inflicted by an individual or group (Olweus, 1993; Harel-Fisch et al, 2010) characterised by an imbalance of power (Smith and Sharp, 1994; Einarsen, 2000), and based on the conscious, deliberate and wilful intention of causing harm to the victim (Olweus, 1991, 1993; O’ Connell, Pepler and Craig, 1999). 

Smith and Sharp (1994) and Rigby (2002) define bullying as “the systematic abuse of power” (Rigby, 2002, p.2). Similar to Olweus (1993), this definition encompasses the repetitive nature of bullying, but adds an implied imbalance of power within the bully/ victim dynamic; a disparity of power which Olweus  suggests may be attributed to the bully’s superior physical or “mental strength” (Smith and Sharp, 1994, p.171). Einarsen (2000) develops this concept further by arguing that the bully/victim relationship is typified by a power inequality, in which the victim cannot easily defend him/herself (Batsche, 1997; Craig et al., 2000; Hazler et al., 2001;Dzuka and Dalbert, 2007) irrespective of whether there is “real or perceived asymmetrical power relationships between the bully and his or her victims” (Naito and Gielen, 2005, p.174).Whilst also adhering to Olweus’ (1993) criteria of recurrent conflictual behaviour, Einarsen et al. (2003) propose that a conflict does not qualify as bullying if it is an isolated incident or if there is equal “strength” among the conflicting parties (Einarsen et al., 2003, p.15; Branch et al., 2006). However, some researchers maintain that isolated critical incidents should also be considered as bullying owing to the long-term effects which the victim may experience (Olweus, 1993; Arora, 1996). Although there are correlations between the phenomenon of SBT and other forms of bullying (peer, workplace etc.) the student bullying of teachers involves a distinct and unique power differential, in that a child has power over an adult, a situation comparable with parent abuse by a child. The criteria of power imbalance, repetition and intent therefore require special consideration and discussion when taken in the context of SBT as will be discussed in the next section.

The student bullying of teachers has been referred to by various terms such as “bullying” (Terry, 1998; James and Lawlor, 2008;De Wet, 2010;Kauppi and Pörhölä, 2012), “teacher targeted bullying” (Pervin and Turner, 1998), “cross-peer abuse” (Terry, 1998) and “violence against teachers’ (Dzuka and Dalbert, 2007; Chen and Astor, 2009; Khoury-Kassabri et al., 2009; Wilson et al. et al., 2011; Turkum, 2011; Mooij, 2011). SBT has also been labelled as “bullying and harassment of teachers’ (Benefield, 2004), “educator targeted bullying” (Matsui, 2005; De Wet, 2010) and “victimisation” (Dworkin, Haney and Telschow, 1988). As “bullying” is the word most widely used in the literature, it will be used within the term the “student bullying of teachers’, which has been coined for the purposes of this article. Despite the lack of consensus with respect to terminology, there remains widespread accord among researchers regarding the inclusion of key elements of traditional bullying criteria in a definition of SBT: power imbalance, intentionality and repetition. Terry (1998) defines SBT, which he terms “cross-peer abuse” as occurring

in situations where the victim cannot easily escape. It occurs when an uneven balance of power is exploited and abused by an individual or individuals who in that particular circumstance have the advantage. Bullying is characterised by persistent, repetitive acts of physical or psychological aggression. This definition includes the concept of social confinement, the abuse of an asymmetric power imbalance, and implies that the power is “usable” in that it has given the individual an advantage.

(Terry, 1998, p.261).

Terry (1998) emphasises that the teacher is under a “potent social constraint that precludes escape as a means of terminating the abusive interaction” (Terry, 1998. p.278). Victimised teachers cannot simply walk out of the lesson; they must maintain their professionalism and stay until the class period has ended, in effect making them a captive in their own classroom. In this definition, Terry (1998) also makes reference to the issue of power imbalance between the teacher and student. The possibility that students have “usable power” over their teachers is explored within a conceptual framework of “cross-peer abuse” which draws on elements of Thibaut and Kelly’s (1959) argument that power can be separated into that which is “relative” and power which is “usable” (Terry, 1998, p.256). “Usable power” is defined as that which is practical and “convenient” for an individual to use and does not “penalise the possessor” whilst “relative” power refers to an individual’s power which is rendered unusable due to the counter-power of another (Terry, 1998, p.258).  Terry explains that an individual draws their usable power from a “pool of potential power” forming one side of the “power equation” (Terry, 1998, p.258). However this “potentially usable power” may be negated in part or entirely by the counter power of the other party. The teacher may be perceived to be in a position of greater potential power relative to the student by dint of both their maturity and position as teacher. However, this “formal or theoretical power” (Kauppi and Pörhölä, 2012, p.1061) may be rendered “non-usable” by a range of factors including student contempt for authority, ineffective disciplinary procedures, poor management structures and teacher inexperience, such that the “relative power imbued by the state upon the teacher becomes progressively less usable” (Terry, 1998, p.258). Thus, the teacher may find themselves victimised by students despite their recognised position of authority in the school.

Kauppi and Pörhölä (2012) acknowledge such a power differential between student and teacher, suggesting that SBT is perpetrated by a “party of lower status” against the “party of higher status” in which the latter is unable to easily defend him or herself (Kauppi and Pörhölä, 2012, p.1061). However, the researchers also focus on the teachers’ subjective interpretation of bullying by students in their definition of SBT as “a communication process in which a teacher is repeatedly subjected, by one or more students, to interaction that he or she perceives as insulting, upsetting, or intimidating. Bullying can be verbal, non- verbal, or physical in nature” (Kauppi and Pörhölä, 2012, p.1061).This definition of bullying does not take into account whether or not students engage in hurtful behaviour intentionally or deliberately; it is the teachers’ experience and perception of SBT which is underlined. De Wet (2010) also acknowledges the power differential in his definition of SBT, which he terms “educator targeted bullying” as“aggressive behaviour in which there is an imbalance of power between the aggressor and the educator. The aggressive acts are deliberate and repeated and aim to harm the victim physically, emotionally, socially and/or professionally. Acts of bullying may be verbal, non-verbal, physical, sexual, racial or electronic” (De Wet, 2010, p.190). He summarises that SBT is “aggression directed against those who should be sources of learners’ social, cognitive and emotional well-being and who should ensure their safety” (De Wet, 2010, p.190). De Wet’s (2010) definition focuses on the impact of the behaviour on the victims’ well-being. 

Taking into account the key criteria, nature and impact of SBT as outlined, the author of the present article offers the following definition of the student bullying of teachers as

repetitive acts of aggressive behaviour directed at a teacher by a student which cause physical, psychological, emotional or professional harm. It is characterised by an imbalance of power where the student(s) is in a position of greater power than the teacher, based on factors which may not be apparent to the observer and are irrespective of the teacher’s perceived superior authority. Acts of aggression may be direct or indirect and include any behaviour which the teacher perceives to be bullying. Serious isolated negative incidents are also regarded as bullying.

The aforementioned three key components – repetition, intention and power imbalance will now be explored in more depth.

SBT and the Criteria of Repetition

As discussed, the concept of repeated or systematic behaviour is fundamental to most definitions of bullying (Einarsen and Skogstad, 1996; O' Moore, et al., 2000; McEvoy, 2005). Olweus (1993) suggests that bullying occurs when an individual is exposed repeatedly over time to negative actions whilst Smith and Sharp (1994, p.2) refer to bullying as “systematic abuse”. However, this view is increasingly being challenged, with researchers (Siann et al. 1993; Benefield, 2004; O’ Moore, 2012) suggesting that serious, isolated negative incidents may indeed constitute bullying. In fact, many teachers insist that the long term impact of a serious bullying incident may have an equal or greater damaging effect on their physical, emotional or occupational health and well-being (Siann et al. 1993; Sullivan, 2000; West, 2007) than less serious repetitive aggressive behaviour. Lynch (2009) excludes isolated incidents of aggressive behaviour in her definition of workplace bullying but nevertheless acknowledges that such incidents may indeed “be regarded as bullying” (Lynch, 2009, p.277). Rigby (2007) concedes that bullying although “typically repeated” may include “one-off actions” and suggests that it is the victims’ fear and expectation of the harassment continuing which “gives the bullying its oppressive and frightening quality” (Rigby, 2007, p.17).

Dr. Mona O’ Moore, Founder and Director of the Anti-Bullying Research Centre in Trinity College Dublin, in her recent address  at the Department of Education Anti-Bullying Forum (2012) on peer bullying, expressed her “strong opinion that a definition of bullying should encapsulate isolated acts of anti‐social aggression that are unjustified” (O’ Moore, 2012, p.7). In particular, O’ Moore (2012) emphasised the devastating impact of cyber‐bullying on the victim wherein a single “cyber-attack can reach an unlimited audience and can be a source of unlimited viewing thus making the experience of being abused one of repetition” (O’ Moore, 2012, p.7). An isolated act of cyber bullying may lead to repeated incidents of harm as images or messages may be forwarded to countless individuals or posted online for unlimited public viewing, forcing the victim to relive the abuse repeatedly. As cyber bullying is an increasing reality for teachers (Cook et al., 2010; Kauppi and Pörhölä, 2012) this understanding of repetition is applicable in the case of SBT. The indefinite recording of material and the potential audience that may witness these items suggests that teachers may be forced to relive the abuse on more than one occasion which in turn makes the bullying repetitive in nature. The present author recognises such a distinction and considers the inclusion of significant bullying incidents (Benefield, 2004) as a necessary component in the definition of the student bullying of teachers.

The Criteria of Perception and Intent

The perceptions of victims and perpetrators have been explored in the literature from a plethora of perspectives. Munn et al. (2004) investigated the perceptions of secondary teachers and head teachers regarding violence in schools whilst Parzefall et al. (2010) used a social exchange perspective to explore the perceptions of and reactions to workplace bullying. A limited number of studies have also directly compared teachers’ and students’ perceptions of bullying (Menesini et al., 2003; Naylor et al., 2006). A United States study conducted by Blasé and Blasé (2008) measured the perceptions of 172 teachers regarding the major sources of victimisation and also the intensity of the experience of mistreatment by colleagues, regarding 38 negative behaviours. Their study was critically distinct from previous research (Keashly, 1998) because “intensity of harm” was recognised as “a function of victims’ perspective, not the simple occurrence of behaviour” (Blasé and Blasé, 2008, p.292). Mishna (2004) found that there was immense confusion between parents, pupils and educators as to what constituted bullying. This difficulty in achieving consensus seemed to stem from the unique and subjective manner in which “each individual viewed a particular incident” (Mishna, 2004, p.237). In the U.K., Maunder et al. (2010) conducted a quantitative study of 1302 participants in which they explored pupil and staff perceptions regarding behavioural definitions of peer to peer bullying. The researchers revealed that students report only those incidents which they perceive as bullying and suggest that bullying may be interpreted differently by individual students (Menesini et al., 2003) and therefore teachers.

As aforementioned, the criterion of intent is central to the vast majority of bullying definitions (Olweus, 1993; Smith and Sharp, 1994; Smith et al., 2003).The construct of intent to hurt has evolved over time with initial definitions underlining the “attempt ... to torment” (Brodsky, 1976, p.2), “with the aim of bringing mental ... pain” (Bjorkqvist et al., 1994). Perpetrators may argue that he or she did not intend to cause distress and were merely behaving in a manner which they felt was acceptable or with intentions which entirely precluded the victim (Lynch, 2002). For instance a student may be disruptive or impudent in the classroom with the intention of gaining popularity and acceptance amongst his peer group; behaviours which the teacher may perceive as bullying. Nonetheless, this does not ease the distress or resultant psychological and emotional effects on the recipient. Even if the target of bullying behaviours does not suffer distress one could argue that such behaviours should still be regarded as bullying, as observers of bullying have been shown to be negatively impacted by such behaviours (Zeira et al. 2004).

The way in which a person may perceive or report bullying behaviour is entirely subjective to the recipient and may be influenced by an array of factors including the recipient’s prior experience of bullying and internal frames of reference as well as their psychological, social and emotional well-being at the time of the incident. Many other factors may also be involved, including age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity and any combination of additional cultural or organisational factors (Twemlow et al., 2004; Vaillancourt et al., 2008). It is reasonable to expect that particular forms of behaviour, such as physical assault, are highly unacceptable regardless of individual teacher, student or school related characteristics however certain forms of behaviour may be regarded as offensive only in specific school or cultural contexts (Borg, 1998, p.69). In both Finland and the United States, for example, there is a high level of informality between pupils and teachers with students in Finland frequently addressing teachers by their first name which is not considered as offensive. However, countries such as Turkey and Japan emphasise a high level of formality in the teacher – student relationship with students in Japan expected to bow to their teachers should they meet them in public places. Increasingly, researchers (Einarsen et al., 1996; Rayner, 1997) are acknowledging that what constitutes bullying is a “subjective judgement by the recipient based on the impact it has on them” (Lynch, 2009, p.9). Rayner (1997) suggests that in assessing whether or not a situation is regarded as bullying, it is the perception of the victim and not the intentionality of the aggressor which is paramount, as the recipient may feel bullied irrespective of the aggressor’s intentions.

The Criteria of Power Imbalance in SBT

Olweus (1993) states that the bullying relationship involves an “asymmetric power imbalance”. However Smith and Thompson (1991) extend their definition and acknowledge that the bully may be stronger, or perceived to be stronger than the victim. Under the conventional definition, it would be difficult to argue that a teacher, who has maturity, size, financial independence and power vested by the state in their favour, could possibly be in a weaker position of power than a student. Such a position of reduced teacher’s power is conceivable if the entire class is involved in the bullying, because in this circumstance, the power imbalance is obvious, due to the sheer number of students forming a “pack” against the teacher (Chan, 2009). However, Smith and Thompson’s (1991) definition recognises that power relations are exceedingly complex and the interplay between innumerable factors must be considered when deciphering the true power exchange within any relationship. The notion of SBT has been met with scepticism as it traverses conventional ideas about power relations between adults and children (Grauerholz, 1989; Terry, 1998). Within Western culture there is a general consensus that teachers hold the power in the classroom (Manke, 1997). However Benefield (2004) reports that many teachers who had been recipients of negative behaviours from students maintained that they had felt bullied, regardless of whether it was perceived that they held a position of superior authority and status.

Westwood (2002) advocates that the concept of power should not be conceived as “some finite commodity that individuals or groups can compete to own” nor should it be considered as some “thing” to be possessed (Westwood, 2002, p.45). Similarly, Foucault asserts that power is “not a commodity, a position, a prize or a plot”; further advancing his description of power as “mobile” and “multidirectional, operating from top down and also from bottom up” (Dreyfuss and Rabinow, 1982, p.185). Foucault argues that although power and institutions are intrinsically linked, they are not interchangeable, as power is dependent upon the “micro-practices” within a given context (Dreyfuss and Rabinow, 1982, p.184). He stresses that nonegalitarian power relations must be “traced down to their actual material functioning” or they elude analysis and “continue to operate with unquestioned autonomy, maintaining the illusion that power” is enforced exclusively by those in positions of authority (Dreyfuss and Rabinow, 1982, p.185). It can therefore be surmised that those in conventionally accepted positions of power may not always and in all situations have the power advantage over those who are socially weaker than themselves.

Jerry Tew (2002) developed the Matrix of Power Relations as a conceptual framework to distinguish between different possibilities of power which operate in social relationships between individuals and on a societal level. Four modes of power relations are identified within the Matrix: co-operative and protective power which are seen as forms of productive or enabling power and oppressive and collusive power which are categorised as limiting or damaging (Tew, 2006). Protective power involves “deploying power in order to safeguard vulnerable people and their possibilities for advancement” whilst co-operative power entails a “collective action, sharing mutual support and challenge through commonality and difference” (Tew, 2006, p.41). Oppressive power involves “exploiting differences to enhance one’s own position and resources at the expense of others, whilst collusive power includes “banding together to exclude or suppress otherness” (Tew, 2002, p.166). These modes of power are not mutually exclusive and may interlink, overlap or be used simultaneously as the circumstance necessitates (Tew, 2005). Tew’s Matrix is beneficial in exploring the modes of power which may be operational in preventing or assisting teachers in seeking support when affected by SBT.

Teachers, who are generally considered to hold a superior position of power, may be rendered powerless by several interrelated power dynamics. The power innately imbued in teachers through the hierarchical school structure may be challenged if students become aware of issues such as staff discontent with management, inconsequential discipline procedures, weaknesses in collegiality or in the teacher’s ability to deal with student confrontation (Galloway and Roland, 2004; James et al., 2008; Chen and Astor, 2009). When there is an interruption to the normal school power relations, students may gain “usable power” (Thibaut and Kelley, 1959; Terry, 1998) over their teachers affecting the entire chain of power and rendering the teacher powerless to access productive forms of power. When students recognise that no disciplinary sanctions are imposed for their behaviour, the teacher becomes further disempowered and the oppressive power of the student over the teacher is intensified. An absence of training, policy guidelines or structured support leaves the teacher helpless to deconstruct the power relations in operation and thus enlist new strategies to establish a more egalitarian power dynamic. Therefore support structures and interventions to address SBT must take into consideration this innate and complex power imbalance within the SBT relationship.

Teachers may be isolated from potential networks of protective power due to the lack of public recognition of the phenomenon and the scarcity of supportive services which may aid them in accessing co-operative and protective power to address their situation. The stigma associated with being bullied by a child leads to a vicious circle in which teachers feel too ashamed to seek help from colleagues, management or friends, effectively alienating themselves from potential networks of support and power. Teachers are also disempowered by the dominant discourse which suggests that competent and effective teachers, who practice efficient classroom management techniques, do not have a problem maintaining co-operation and control in the classroom (Pervin and Turner, 1998; American Psychological Association, 2004; Allen, 2010). Teachers who admit to being bullied by their students may find themselves ostracised and alienated by colleagues and management who use collusive forms of power to disassociate themselves from victimised teachers, casting them as inferior for not being able to control their class (Zeira et al., 2004; Daniels et al., 2007; Du Plessis, 2008; De Wet, 2010). Teachers may feel blamed for being ineffectual at maintaining order in their classrooms, compounding their feelings of powerlessness and isolation. Research shows that teachers who sought help due to bullying by students or by management reported experiencing feelings of being trapped, ostracised, weak and humiliated (Du Plessis, 2008); isolated by staff (Daniels et al., 2007; De Wet, 2010); having the seriousness of the situation minimised by colleagues (Daniels et al., 2007); not being given adequate support (Terry, 1998; Zeira, 2004; Daniels et al., 2007) and being seen as incompetent (Terry, 1998). Teachers may therefore find themselves in a paradoxical position in which they are being held responsible for the abuse even when it is directed at them (Hunter, 2010; Tew and Nixon, 2010), contributing to the problem of teachers being reluctant to disclose their experience of being bullied by a student.  As mentioned at the outset of the article, teachers experiencing victimisation by students urgently require public and political action to address the issue. Having focused on exploring the concept and nature of SBT, this article will now look at the ways in which SBT is manifested and experienced by teachers.

Forms of SBT           

There is strong agreement within the research literature that bullying may involve a multitude of direct or indirect behaviours (Bjorkqvist et al., 1992; Aluede, 2006; Marini, 2006) perpetrated both explicitly and covertly in relational, technological, physical or verbal forms.  Direct forms of SBT may be physical (for example: hitting, spitting, shoving, hair pulling, inappropriate touching, and abusive telephone calls) or non-physical (Aluede, 2006). Non-physical bullying may be verbal (for example: the use of sexually inappropriate or abusive language, racist remarks, cruel and hurtful comments about teachers’ personal appearance or character orintimidation and threats of violence). It may also be non-verbal (for example: making offensive gestures and noises, staring, giggling or mocking the teacher, use of intimidating and threatening facial expressions, eye contact and body language, slamming or throwing objects or damage to or theft of teachers’ property).

Indirect bullying behaviours are intended to cause psychological and emotional distress to the recipient and damage to their social status amongst their peers (Bjorkqvist, et al., 2004). These acts are carried out in such a way that the perpetrator “attempts to inflict pain in such a manner that he or she makes it seem as though there is no intention to hurt at all” (Bjorkqvist et al., 1992, p.118). In many cases, the identity of the perpetrator remains unknown as the pupil conceals his or her aggressive intent against the teacher to avoid reprisal or reprimand for the attack. However, some instances of indirect bullying, such as ignoring the teacher or on-going classroom disruption (Maunder, 2010) may involve knowledge of the perpetrator’s identity (Archer and Coyne, 2005). Indirect SBT is usually non-physical however, in some cases a third party may be manipulated into causing physical harm to the teacher (Bjorkqvist, 1994; Crick and Nelson, 2002) or the teacher may be put in the way of physical harm through, for example, damage to their personal property. Indirect SBT typically takes the form of non-verbal behaviours which may include: purposely ignoring or isolating the teacher (Sullivan et al., 2004), covert damage or theft of personal property, (Aluede et al., 2006), spreading malicious rumours and lies (James and Lawlor, 2008), destroying the teacher’s reputation or making unfounded, disparaging remarks about his or her personal or professional character (Kauppi and Pörhölä, 2012).  Persistent, low grade, disruptive behaviour has also been recognised as a form of indirect SBT (Debarbieux 2003), which may include: students talking out of turn and making insolent comments (Parzell and Salin, 2010), persistent tardiness or refusal to obey instructions (James and Lawlor, 2008), undermining the teacher’s relationship with other students and humiliating the teacher in front of staff or other students (Kauppi and Pörhölä, 2012). Kivivouri (1997) and Salmi and Kivivouri (2009) also cite the targeting of a teacher’s own children by students as a form of indirect harassment directed at themselves.

Whilst most bullying between pupils appears to take place in the school yard (Smith and Shu, 2000) and to a lesser extent in classrooms and corridors, bullying can, in fact, occur in any location. Almost two thirds (62%) of the respondents in Pervin and Turner’s (1998) U.K. study indicated that incidents of bullying had taken place during regular lessons in the classroom whilst 32% of teachers stated that it occurred in the school corridor. A further U.K. study (Terry, 1998) reported that the majority of respondents (42%) identified their own and different classrooms as the locations where bullying had most often taken place. However, the study also revealed that 29% of survey respondents admitted to being bullied outside of the school premises, suggesting that teachers not only endure student abuse on the school premises but may be targets for victimisation in their personal lives as well. A South African study by De Wet et al. (2010) reported incidents of teachers being attacked in the street, having stones and eggs thrown at their home and having their private property defaced with graffiti. Teachers in another Finnish study (Lahelma et al., 2000) were also the victims of out of school attacks with some reporting that personally offensive graffiti was scrawled in public places whilst others were called “whore” or “gay” in social and recreational areas (Lahelma et al, 2000, p.469). One respondent recounted an incident in which she was cycling past a bus stop close to the school when some pupils shouted “whore, whore, whore”; the teacher expressed feeling “paralysed up to my soul” and on return home confided that she had “collapsed and could not stop crying” (Lahelma et al., 2000, p.469). A male teacher in the same study, admitted to almost going crazy with rage and shock upon seeing the walls and benches of his local community filled with graffiti naming him and making reference to his inferred homosexuality.

A systematic review of the literature has established that the most prevalent forms of SBT are physical assault, sexually orientated offences, persistent class disruption, verbal abuse, intimidating and threatening behaviour, cyber bullying and personal property offences. In Ireland, a number of studies which explore student disruptive behaviour have been carried out by the teacher trade unions (Teachers’ Union of Ireland; Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland and the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation). In 2006, 5% of teachers surveyed by the TUI reported that they had experienced student physical aggressionwhilst, an ASTI (2007) commissioned survey revealed that 9% of teachershad been victims of physical abuse perpetrated by students, parents and school management, with students being the perpetrators in 37.5% of these cases. In Northern Ireland, a survey commissioned by the INTO (2011) showed that 50% of respondents had witnessed incidents of school violence whilst an alarming 57% of teachers had been subjected to some form of violence or physical abuse. A particular case highlighted in the report described how a twenty eight year old female teacher was restrained against a wall by an eleven year old child resulting in her suffering a dislocated shoulder. Schools with high levels of teacher victimisation cannot be expected to createpositive teacher-student relationships or an environment conducive to effectual learning or teaching (McMahon et al., 2011) as even the most seemingly innocuous and minor incidents can be detrimental and terrifying for the teachers involved. 

Research relating to the sexual harassment of teachers by students has revealed that, although less prevalent than physical violence, sexual aggression remains a serious problem for some teachers (Mooij, 2011; Robinson, 2000; James and Lawlor, 2008; Lahelma et al., 2000). An ASTI (2004) study revealed that 7% of Irish teachers experienced some form of student sexual harassment or innuendo whilst a TUI survey (2006) reported a prevalence rate of 8% amongst respondents. Consistent findings were reported in Finland with 7% of teachers being sexually harassed by students during their teaching career (Kivivuori, 1997). Sexually orientated offences against teachers include sexual comments or innuendo, sexual gestures, unwanted sexual touching, sexually abusing someone and rape (Mooij, 2010, p.24). Lahelma et al. (2000) in their qualitative analysis of teacher responses regarding sexual harassment by students suggest that the most prevalent forms of verbal sexual harassment include inappropriate comments about a teacher’s clothing or personal appearance, being threatened with rape and students’ claims concerning teachers’ sexual orientation. Epstein and Johnson (1998) suggest that for teachers, sexuality is both inescapable and extremely perilous. When female teachers are objectified by their students in terms of their sexuality or physical appearance, feelings of offense, confusion or pleasure may ensue. Some teachers become acutely aware of their sexuality or appearance irrespective of whether the comments were experienced as positive or negative. Female students may attempt to disempower a male teacher by behaving in an over sexualised manner resulting in possible feelings of discomfort, embarrassment or confusion in the teacher. Male teachers are left most vulnerable however when they are labelled as homosexual by their students as such a label both eliminates their superior position of masculinity and questions hegemonic masculinity in general (Ferfolja, 1998; Lahelma et al., 2000). 

A more insidious form of bullying involves on-going disruptive behaviour which may be defined as “any event or incident which frustrates” the school’s role, which is “to provide teaching and to promote learning for its student body” (Martin, 2006, p.53). Persistent disruptive behaviour is recognised in the research literature as both a direct and an indirect form of teacher bullying (James et al., 2008; De Wet, 2010) in which the student attempts to humiliate, threaten or discredit the teacher. The relentless and repetitive nature of the acts leads to teachers’ feeling de-motivated, disillusioned and weary. The British Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) (2009) survey involving over 1,000 respondents focused on student behaviour in the classroom. In excess of 40% of respondents believed that student behaviour had worsened in the preceding two years whilst 58% felt it had deteriorated over the past five years. 87% of teachers had been confronted with an unruly pupil during the 2008-2009 school year with 90% of these instances involving “low level disruption such as talking in class, not paying attention or horsing around” (ATL, 2009, p.4).  Teachers participating in the Irish TUI study (2006) estimated that addressing persistent disruptive behaviour had generally kept them from their teaching duties for approximately ten minutes each time that it took place. A further TUI (2011) survey of its members ascertained that 81% of teachers agreed that addressing student indiscipline had increased their workload in the previous five years.

A frequent component of disruptive behaviour involves verbal abuse which has been identified by teachers as the most common transgression by students (Matsui, 2005; TUI, 2006; Dzuka and Dalbert, 2007; West, 2007; De Wet, 2010; Turkum, 2011). Data findings from The Irish Task Force on Student Behaviour (2006) evidenced threats to teachers, the use of obscene language by students and also remarks of a deeply offensive or overt sexual nature directed at teachers by pupils in Irish schools. The TUI (2006) survey supports these findings, with 36% of respondents being subjected to verbal abuse from students, a significantly lower figure than the 85% reported by O’ Dowd Lernihan (2011). The most significant account of verbal aggression directed at teachers however comes from the Welsh Teacher Support Cymru, Violence and Disruption Survey for 2009, which indicates that a remarkable 95% of respondents had been subjected to swearing and verbal abuse by pupils (Miloudi, 2009).

In addition to verbal abuse, international studies (Zeira, 2004; Chen and Astor, 2009; De Wet, 2010; Wilson et al., 2011; McMahon, 2011) show that teachers endure considerable levels of intimidation and threatening behaviour from students. Almost half, (49%) of the participants in a New Zealand survey (Benefield, 2004) indicated that they had been intimidated by pupils; while a Welsh study (Miloudi, 2009) highlighted the case of a teacher threatened with scissors by a pupil. The British ATL (2010) revealed that 44% of respondents had experienced intimidation in the form of threats from students whilst 30% of Finnish teachers, surveyed by Salmi and Kivivuori (2009) had encountered direct threats or had felt fear of violence by their pupils at some point in their teaching careers.Actual physical violence, verbal threats and general harassment were higher for men whilst women experienced more intimidation from students (McMahon, 2011). Figures relating to the prevalence of student intimidation in Ireland are especially interesting; a recent report (O’ Dowd Lernihan, 2011) reveals that 68% of respondents had felt intimidated by a student, a figure considerably higher than any other obtained by researchers internationally. In 2006, 21% of Irish teachers had reported threatening or intimidating behaviour with almost 42% of teachers experiencing it on a weekly basis and 25% on a daily basis (TUI, 2006).

In recent years with the explosion of increasingly more sophisticated electronic communication devices and widespread instant internet access, cyber bullying is becoming one of the most prevalent forms of teacher victimisation by students (ASTI, 2004; Williams and Guerra, 2007; ATL, 2009; Cook et al., 2010; Kauppi and Pörhölä, 2012). The rapid increase in electronic and online communication has meant that the bullying of teachers by students is no longer restricted to the confines of the school grounds (Juvonen, 2008). The most common forms of abuse experienced by teachers include students creating fake Facebook pages in the teacher’s name, posting video clips of teachers on YouTube or leaving abusive and hurtful comments about teachers on RateMyTeacher.com (U.K. Safer Internet Centre, 2011). In addition, teachers may also be subjected to hacking of their email account, the sending of viruses or the circulation of doctored videos involving the superimposition of the teacher’s face on the body of a pornographic actor (Llewellyn, 2008). In Ireland, the issue of cyber bullying was investigated by the ASTI (2004) revealing that 3% of Irish second level teachers have been subjected to offensive comments from students via e-mail, text message or on websites such as Facebook and RateMyTeacher. Sugden (2010) asserts that teachers are being subjected to online smear campaigns, highlighting the case of a fake Facebook page created by a student which declared the teacher’s interests as enjoying under-age sex with both boys and girls. Such a smear campaign was unearthed in a Dublin secondary school, in 2012, resulting in four students being expelled and a further forty students receiving detention for tagging the offending page as a “like” on Facebook. The incident  involved the posting of vulgar and unfounded allegations of a sexual nature against a male and female teacher, as well as abusive comments regarding the working hours of a third teacher at the school. Meanwhile, the Norton Online Family Report (2011) which polled 19,636 people including 2,379 teachers from twenty four countries found that 20% of teachers have personally experienced or know another teacher who has experienced cyber-baiting. Cyber-baiting is a recent form of bullying which involves students taunting their teachers and subsequently recording and posting or threatening to post their reaction on the internet (Fox, 2011).

In addition to the vast range of physical and verbal abuses experienced by teachers, many also suffer theft or damage to their personal property (Borg, 1998; Elliott, Hamburg, and Williams, 1998; NIOSH, 2008; Wilson et al., 2011; McMahon et al., 2011). Although some teachers perceive the theft or damage of their personal property to be a form of bullying, there are others who do not deem property offences to fall within the realms of SBT. A recent Canadian study, conducted by Wilson et al. (2011) showed that 11% of respondents had been the victims of property offences in the previous year with that figure increasing to 34% when considering property offences throughout their teaching career. In the United States, over one-third of educators had experienced property offences, the second most prevalent form of SBT identified in a nationally representative study carried out by McMahon et al. (2011). A recent South African study (De Wet, 2010) reported that teachers’ classrooms were vandalised with spray paint, their cars were scratched and their tyres were slashed by delinquent pupils. Meanwhile, U.K. findings (ATL, 2009) reveal widespread malicious damage to teachers’ property with over 200 personal insurance claims being lodged by teachers in the 2007-2009 period including sixty nine incidents of deliberate damage to vehicles and 146 cases of serious damage to teachers’ personal property by pupils. Irish studies also paint a dismal picture with an increase from 11% (ASTI, 2004) in 2004 to 30% (TUI, 2006) in 2006 of teachers reporting damage by students to their own, student or school property. 


In recent decades, the issue of teachers being bullied by their pupils is increasingly emerging as an area of international concern (Debarbieux, 2003). In comparison with the plethora of studies pertaining to peer to peer and workplace bullying, SBT has received relatively little research attention; in fact literature exploring teacher perpetrated bullying is more widely available (Olweus, 1999; Bjorkqvist and Osterman, 1999; Yoneyama and Naito, 2003). Researchers (Pervin and Turner, 1998; Chen and Astor, 2009; Khoury-Kassabri et al., 2009) maintain that effective teaching and learning cannot occur in a school environment “where those who are supposed to lead, supervise and act as role models are targeted by those whom they are supposed to lead, supervise and protect” (De Wet, 2010, p.190). Systematic empirical research which explores the fundamental components and parameters of the phenomenon is central to achieving an in-depth understanding of SBT. This article has explored the ways in which SBT differs from all other forms of bullying in that it involves the bullying of an adult by a child signalling a unique power differential. The author offers an alternative definition of SBT which takes account of the complexities of these power relations which traverse conventional ideas about power relations between adults and children. This definition also recognises that teachers do not consider repetition to be a necessary component of a bullying definition as individual acts of aggression, such as cyber bullying may have such a significant impact on the teacher to warrant re-living of the event, making it repetitive in nature. The criterion of intent to harm was discussed in tandem with the issue of perception, stressing that it is the teachers’ perception of the behaviour as aggressive and offensive which is imperative regardless of whether the student had intended for the behaviour to be perceived in this manner. The most prevalent forms of SBT were explored in the article to facilitate a deeper awareness and recognition of the ways in which SBT may be manifested and ultimately to inform policy responses which assist teachers ineffectively addressing the issue. This article has therefore focused exclusively on the nature and manifestation of the phenomenon. Further exploration of the causes and effects and indeed an indication of the prevalence of the issue would be beneficial in contextualising and shedding further light on the phenomenon. In particular, individual and school contextual factors which may influence both the prevalence and patterns of SBT should be explored as should the characteristics or developmental course of the teacher-student relationship to determine the possible patterns of conflict or tension between the parties which may trigger SBT. Finally, future studies should also explore and evaluate the current international and national responses in place to address SBT. However the author acknowledges that sufficiently responding to the issue requires in the first instance a thorough understanding of the problem in need of address, an understanding which this article has attempted to advance.


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Francis Kelly

Truth, Honour and Justice: The Military Tribunals of Captain Francisco de Cuéllar 1583/84 and 1588.

Francis Kelly

School of History/Hispanic Studies, UCC

Captain Francisco de Cuéllar was an infantry officer who served in the Spanish military during the period 1580-1603. He is known to Irish history for an account (Carta) that he wrote of his experiences with the Spanish Armada in 1588. Two controversies marked his military service during the 1580s. He commanded vessels in two fleets; the Armada de Magallanes, which served in the south Atlantic in the period 1581-84, and the Gran Armada of 1588. During both campaigns he gained notoriety for incidents that led to disciplinary sanctions and resulted in formal inquiries. In 1583, after a battle with English galleons in Brazil, Cuéllar became embroiled in a dispute with a commanding officer over the conduct of the engagement, which resulted in four inquiries and the case being referred to the Council of the Indies at Madrid. In 1588, he was court-martialled for breach of discipline in the North Sea, and sentenced to be executed. Cuéllar’s experiences in Brazil, when set alongside those of 1588, provide an interesting case-study of military discipline and the repercussions of defeat in the Spanish navy of the sixteenth century. This article will investigate the circumstances surrounding the controversies, and examine the legal procedures employed by the protagonists in each instance.

Captain Cuéllar and the Armada de Magallanes

In the spring of 1581, Francisco de Cuéllar was nominated by the Council of the Indies for a captaincy in the Armada de Magallanes (Philip II, 1581), a fleet that was being assembled at Seville for service in the south Atlantic (Bobb, 1948, Duro, 1895). Its purpose was to defend Spanish interests in the New World against illegal trading and predatory raids by English and French interlopers. The expedition departed from Cadiz in December 1581 with three objectives: first, to secure the Strait of Magellan with a fortified settlement to protect Spanish settlements in Peru and Chile against incursions - it was then believed in Spain that the Strait was the only sea passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific; second, to transport a newly appointed governor of Chile with 600 men for the conquest of southern Chile; third, the fleet had the task of patrolling the Atlantic seaboard between Brazil and the Strait to clear the seas of all interlopers. The goal of the planners was to ensure Spanish control of all of the New World, and to prevent encroachment on those territories by rival powers. The naval commander was Diego Flores de Valdés, a general of the Indian Guard squadron that escorted the Caribbean treasure fleets.

Between December 1581 when the fleet departed from Spain, and January 1583, Cuéllar remained relatively anonymous within the fleet. There is virtually no reference to his activities until December 1582, when he was given command of the 400-ton Concepción, and assigned 100 soldiers (Frias, 1584). The fleet then lay at the island of Santa Catalina in southern Brazil having received reports that heavily armed English galleons were active in Brazilian waters. The English were thought to be heading for the Pacific via the Strait of Magellan to raid Spanish settlements as Francis Drake had done in 1578. Diego Flores reorganized the fleet, and detached three ships under the command of Andrés de Guino to search for the English, while the remaining vessels embarked for the Strait. De Guino was ordered to sweep the Brazilian coast northwards from Santa Catalina to Rio de Janeiro. If he were to encounter the English he was to attack and either capture or destroy the enemy (Frias, 1584). De Guino’s flagship was the 400-ton San Juan Bautista, while the third ship, the Begoña, was a smaller 250-ton vessel (Markham, 1895, p.235-36).

The Battle of San Vicente

The Spanish ships reached the port of San Vicente on the afternoon of Thursday 24 January 1583 (Frias, 1584). Within the harbour they discovered two galleons moored very close to the town. The galleons were immediately identified by mariners who had encountered them before (Frias, 1584). They were powerful vessels and heavily armed, but were virtually unattended at this time. Masts and rigging were down, and most of the crew had gone ashore, to attend to chores on a strand adjacent to San Vicente. They were taken completely by surprise by the appearance of Spanish vessels, as they believed that the Spanish fleet was then at the Strait of Magellan. The weather conditions were ideal, and a high tide in the bay favoured them (Frias, 1584). The English galleons were effectively sitting ducks, and it appeared to be a straightforward task to sail across the harbour and capture them. However, twenty-four hours later, after a battle that had lasted through the night, one of the Spanish ships, the Begoña, lay submerged at the bottom of the harbour. The other two had withdrawn to Santos, a settlement two leagues upriver from San Vicente, leaving the English in the bay unhindered to repair battle damage and replenish water supplies, before their departure twenty four hours later.

At Santos, a bitter dispute erupted in the Spanish camp over the conduct of the battle, and how a position of overwhelming advantage had been squandered with such heavy losses. The sequence of events that occurred in the harbour of San Vicente may be summarised as follows: when the Spanish ships arrived at San Vicente, Andrés de Guino elected not to engage the English immediately, but ordered his ships to drop anchor within cannon shot of the English. According to one of the English present, there was a brief exchange of fire but no general engagement developed (Taylor, 1959). Instead, Andres de Guino convened a council of war with principal officers of the other ships in order to agree a plan of action (Frias, 1584). It was decided that de Guino’s flagship, the San Juan Bautista, would attack the English flagship, that Cuéllar’s ship would tackle the second galleon, and that the smallest vessel, the Begoña, would remain in reserve. However, the element of surprise was lost. When the Spanish attack commenced later that evening, the English were ready for combat. Also, the weather had deteriorated, and hindered rather than helped the Spanish manoeuvres. The San Juan led the assault, but conditions in the bay impeded its progress, preventing it from closing with the English. Unable to engage in a boarding action, the San Juan dropped anchor, but swung on the cable. In doing so, it blocked the passage of Cuéllar’s Concepción, which was following. Cuéllar then attempted to skirt around the San Juan, but he encountered similar difficulties, forcing him to drop anchor behind de Guino’s ship in a position on the starboard side of the San Juan, away from the English (Frias, 1584). The Begoña then moved forward. Smaller and more manoeuvrable, it was able to close with the English galleons, but soon became trapped between them. It sank during the night after the English poured cannon-shot into it, repeatedly piercing the hull along the waterline (Frias, 1584).

As the fighting continued the following day, the Concepción succeeded in engaging in the action. Around midday, it became apparent that one of the English ships was in difficulty and listing. When its companion withdrew to the mouth of the harbour, Captain Cuéllar urged Andrés de Guino to sanction a boarding action to capture the vessel, but this was refused (Frias, 1584). The English ship was then able to extricate itself from danger by being towed away by its ship’s boat. Watching the action onshore, the governor of San Vicente dispatched war canoes and soldiers into the bay, to assist in a renewed assault on the English vessels, but de Guino declined the offer (Frias, 1584). Instead, he requested local pilots to guide his ships upriver to Santos, and withdrew them from the encounter, as he felt that they were in no condition to continue fighting (Guino, 1583).

Arrest and Imprisonment

It was clear that a succession of errors had turned an advantageous position into a costly defeat for the Spaniards. An opportunity to capture two heavily armed English galleons had been squandered, and in the process one Spanish ship had been destroyed, substantial damage had been inflicted on the other two vessels, and there had been many casualties (Hakluyt, 1904, p.196-7). As commanding officer, Andres de Guino would have to answer for the loss of the Begoña and the failure to capture the English. He was heavily criticised by Francisco de Cuéllar, who questioned his tactics and decision-making during the encounter, and was very vocal in doing so. Cuéllar regarded the withdrawal to Santos as shameful, exclaiming ‘‘I complained to God and the world of such weakness and tepidness...’’ (Frias, 1584). Yet, Cuéllar’s own ship had failed to engage with the English throughout the night of the battle. De Guino accused him of deliberately anchoring behind the San Juan so as not to be exposed to the enemy cannon. He considered this the cause for the Begoña’s loss, and could accuse Cuéllar of incompetence, dereliction of duty, and even cowardice. Both officers considered the other culpable in the affair. Each blamed the other for the loss of the Begoña and the escape of the English. De Guino held a powerful position within the fleet as inspector and paymaster. That he was primarily an administrator, not a military officer, may have been a point of contention for Cuéllar. Furthermore, it was known that there was bad blood between them (Frias, 1584). On the other hand, Cuéllar was an inexperienced officer having only received his promotion because others declined to serve with the expedition (Cuéllar, 1585). Cuéllar’s protestations were such that they called de Guino’s authority into question, so he was stripped of his command and arrested along with the pilot of the Concepción, Juan Quintero. They were confined to quarters, with orders not to leave the ship on pain of death (Frias, 1584). Command of the Concepción was assigned to Captain Rodrigo de Rada who had survived the sinking of his ship, the Begoña.

While squabbles onboard ships broke out on a regular basis, disputes between officers of different vessels were less frequent, but happened nonetheless. The quarrel between Cuéllar and de Guino is interesting as it arose out of a military operation that had gone spectacularly wrong. As both parties were adamant in defending their conduct, a formal investigation was instigated. In fact, four inquiries would be held in an effort to resolve the dispute. The transcripts of two of the inquiries were examined for this article: those at San Vicente, and the Casa de Contratación (House of Trade), Seville. The information that they contain throws light on the course of the battle, and on how the subsequent dispute escalated. Transcripts from the others have not yet come to light.

The normal procedure in resolving disputes between individuals in a fleet was to bring the case to the senior military authority, usually the general of the fleet, or an appointed judicial officer (Rahn-Phillips, 1992, p.121). In this particular case Diego Flores de Valdés was senior commander, but he was absent, having embarked for the Strait of Magellan. Alternatively, a complainant could refer to the authorities of the port where the ships were moored (Pérez-Mallaína, 1998, p.206). This was the procedure Andrés de Guino followed, and he used the results of the subsequent inquiry to demonstrate to Diego Flores, and afterwards, to the Spanish authorities, that the blame for what had occurred lay with Captain Cuéllar. Cuéllar, in turn, submitted counter-accusations against de Guino when Flores returned to Brazil from the Strait, and he presided over a second inquiry at Salvador later that year. However, unable to offer a verdict, Flores referred the case to the Council of the Indies in Madrid. Before the case was heard, Cuéllar applied to the Casa in Seville to accept testimonies on his behalf, as he feared the exertion of undue influence by de Guino. The procedure at both inquiries was identical as Spanish trials and investigations were mostly written affairs (Pike, 1972, p.95). They involved the submission of a set of questions by the party bringing the case, followed by the sworn testimony of selected respondents in the presence of notaries who validated the information as evidence. There was no cross-examination of witnesses. Although today, the questions may appear very biased and leading, they were an accepted part of the legal process of the time.

Inquiry at San Vicente, February 1583

The governor of San Vicente, Geronimó Leitón, presided over the first inquiry, which was held in Santos over two days, at the office of Antonio de Sequera (Guino, 1583). Leitón had a vested interest in agreeing to the proceedings, as local authorities were expressly forbidden from engaging in illicit trade with English and French interlopers. He used the inquiry to justify his conduct while the English were at the port. Notaries in attendance were Antonio de Sequera and Pedro Texón Osorio, chief notary of the fleet. They recorded witness testimony and produced legal transcripts of the proceedings. Andrés de Guino submitted fourteen questions that he wished to be asked of six prominent citizens from the locality. The questions were mostly concerned with the threat posed by the English, and the conduct of Geronimó Leitón and Andrés de Guino in the affair. Witnesses were asked to verify that the Concepción had sheltered behind de Guino’s flagship throughout the night, and if it failed to provide assistance in the fighting. They were asked if they believed that the Begoña would have been lost, or the English able to escape, had Francisco de Cuéllar complied with the orders he had been given. Geronimó Leitón submitted a lengthy statement explaining the sequence of events in the port from the arrival of the English, on Sunday 20 January, until their departure the following Saturday, and offered his opinion of what had transpired.

Francisco de Cuéllar and Juan Quintero were present to witness the proceedings, but they did not make statements. Indeed, nobody who participated in the battle was called as a witness. Although Geronimó Leitón was a military man, none of the witnesses had a military background. They consisted of local officials, plantation owners, and prominent locals (Guino, 1583). Witness testimony conveyed the belief that the English posed a serious threat to the safety of San Vicente. They agreed that Geronimó Leitón had done all in his power to prevent the English taking possession of the port, and that Andrés de Guino had shown resolve in the fighting. Ultimately, the defence of San Vicente prevented the English seizing it as a base from which to launch raids against shipping and settlements elsewhere on the Brazilian coast, and was declared a notable achievement in the royal service. Concerning the role of the Concepción, witnesses proved to be reticent in their answers, and were unable to offer definite opinions. The Governor, Geronimó Leitón, however, did not hesitate to express his view of what had occurred. He was certain that “if she had anchored that night where she should have done, and helped the aforesaid Andrés Eguino, the Begoña would not have been lost and the English flagship would not have got away” (Guino, 1583).

According to the findings of that inquiry, Cuéllar was at fault. He and Juan Quintero would remain under arrest until Diego Flores returned from the Strait. When he arrived two months later, Cuéllar was released, and his case against de Guino was presented to Flores (Frias, 1584). On top of the original dispute, Cuéllar claimed that the treatment he and Juan Quintero had endured from de Guino was unduly harsh. The conditions of their imprisonment had caused Quintero to die shortly after the hearing at San Vicente, and Cuéllar accused de Guino of attempting to orchestrate his death as well (Frias, 1584). One soldier on the Concepción claimed de Guino deliberately withheld food rations from Cuéllar (Frias, 1584). Diego Flores presided over the second inquiry when the fleet reached Salvador, the Brazilian capital, in the Bay of all Saints (Frias, 1584). Records of those proceedings have not yet been discovered, but the information submitted at Seville indicates that witnesses were called from among the men who had participated in the action. Flores declined to offer a verdict but, instead referred the case for consideration to the Council of the Indies in Madrid, when the fleet should return to Spain (Frias, 1584). Before then, the fleet saw further service, when it participated in a successful joint action with local militia against a French logging expedition and their Indian allies in the northeastern territory of Paraiba, in the spring of 1584 (Guino, 1584).

Inquiry at Seville, August 1584

The fleet returned to Spain in July 1584, and preparations for the hearing before the Council of the Indies began immediately. Cuéllar and de Guino submitted petitions in the presence of Diego Flores the day after the fleet docked in the Bay of Cadiz (Frias, 1584). However, before the papers were transported to Madrid, Cuéllar applied to the Casa de Contratación (House of Trade) at Seville to be allowed to present evidence in the matter. This appears to have been a move to ensure that his evidence would receive a fair hearing, as he feared manipulation of the process by de Guino and his associates. If Cuéllar’s evidence was accepted by the court of the Casa, it would become a matter of public record, and could bolster his position when the case was heard before the council. Andrés de Guino objected to this on the grounds that the Casa had no jurisdiction in the affair, as the case had already been referred to Madrid. The Casa functioned under the auspices of the Council of the Indies, but all courts jealously guarded their own jurisdictions and status in hearing cases (Thompson, 1976, p.45-46), and it would appear that Cuéllar, or whoever was advising him, was aware of this. The objection was not upheld, and Cuéllar was allowed to present his evidence. Although the legal system could function notoriously slowly, proceedings in Seville began on 11 August 1584, less than a month after the fleet arrived at Cadiz.

The information in Cuéllar’s evidence reveals why he applied to the Casa for a hearing. It became apparent that before the enquiry in the Bay of All Saints, de Guino took various measures to manipulate the process. Accusations surfaced of intimidation, bribery of witnesses, and fabrication of evidence (Frias, 1584). One respondent was bullied by de Guino into providing false testimony, another admitted that his testimony in support of de Guino had actually been dictated by him (Frias, 1584). All of the witnesses identified the chief clerk of the fleet, Pedro Texon Osorio as a friend and implicit ally of de Guino. He was accused of fabricating testimony, and of doing so in the knowledge that that some of the men could neither read nor write (Frias, 1584). It was also alleged that de Guino threatened soldiers with the removal of their teeth if they testified against him (Frias, 1584).

The Seville hearing offered an opportunity for Cuéllar to have the statements of those men, who had been dissuaded by de Guino from testifying on his behalf in the Bay of All Saints, recorded. Seventeen witnesses responded to twenty questions formulated by Cuéllar, which concentrated on the sequence of events between the arrival of the Spaniards at San Vicente, and their withdrawal upriver to Santos on the following afternoon. Respondents were drawn from all three ships that participated in the battle. The evidence they presented offered an alternative picture of events, and the conduct of the two protagonists in the case. All of the witnesses had participated in the battle, and included sailors who understood the technical difficulties of navigation and the influence of wind and tide.

As might be anticipated, there was a general unanimity among Cuéllar’s witnesses regarding his behaviour during the affair. All stated his desire to come to grips with the enemy, the readiness of his ship for combat, and his encouragement of the crew with offerings of money and clothes for those who excelled in the fighting (Frias, 1584). They described how, on two occasions he requested permission to engage in boarding actions but was denied by de Guino. Opinions on weather conditions in the harbour, and how they affected the manoeuvrability of the Spanish ships on the night of the assault, indicated that blame could not be laid on either party for the difficulties they encountered when attempting to close with the English. The outgoing tide, the strength of the current from the river, and the lack of wind, made the two heavy Spanish ships unmanageable, and rendered it impossible for teams of rowers in the ships boats to tow them into position, particularly after they came under fire from the English ships (Frias, 1584).

On the other hand Andrés de Guino’s decision-making was questioned. Concerning his decision to drop anchor when they first arrived in the harbour, the witnesses agreed that there had been ideal opportunity to capture the English galleons with relative ease (Frias, 1584). Secondly, of the decision not to attempt to capture the English galleon that was in difficulty, the witnesses believed that this could have been achieved, had the Spanish ships grappled with it (Frias, 1584). The most contentious decision, however, was the order to withdraw to Santos leaving the enemy still in the harbour unopposed. De Guino believed the extent of damage to his ships, and low water levels in the harbour made it too hazardous to approach the stricken ship. At this time the tide was low and had just begun to rise (Frias, 1584). However, witnesses unanimously regarded it as a bad decision. According to many of them it caused disquiet among the crews, and among the townspeople of San Vicente who had watched the events unfold from the shore (Frias, 1584). Witnesses suggested that de Guino relied heavily on the opinions of the master and pilot of his ship, that their reluctance to engage with the English influenced his cautious demeanour. Some alleged that on the night of the assault de Guino was heard to blame them for the failure to close with the English, accusing them of being traitors, and of having lost their honour on account of the bad advice they had offered (Frias, 1584).

The boatswain of the Concepción, gave some of the most revealing information regarding Andrés de Guino’s reluctance to attack the English on their arrival at San Vicente. He claimed that the San Juan was not ready for combat. The men were not armed and the powder for the cannons had not been distributed. It appears that the ship had problems with stability in the water in the heavy seas of the south Atlantic, as the ship’s two heaviest cannon, which should have been positioned in the prow, had been placed in the hold to serve as ballast (Frias, 1584). The boatswain intimated that these guns were not re-positioned prior to the engagement. Spanish naval regulations of the period stipulated that warships concentrate their heavy artillery at the front of the ship. The broadside, as used by the English, was not encouraged as it was believed that it exposed a greater part of the ship to enemy cannon. Consequently, the preferred tactic for ships in combat was a straight or crescent line abreast, where all ships in a fleet could deploy their artillery without being impeded (Parker, 1998). If Spanish warships sought to fight ‘head on’ with an enemy, then Cuéllar, through his witness, clearly sought to cast aspersions on de Guino’s qualities as an officer, and his judgement in having the San Juan to lead the Spanish ships in single file towards the English in the confines of the bay of San Vicente, when it was incapable of firing on the enemy.

In his own deposition, Cuéllar urged that de Guino be condemned “in the established punishment by the law and rigor of military discipline for such disservice to the King and Lord...” (Frias, 1584). For the imprisonment and mistreatment he had endured, he demanded damages amounting to one thousand five hundred ducats. Cuéllar’s sense of grievance was perhaps, heightened by having additional criminal charges brought against him while still in Brazil, when he was accused of the illegal sale of a barrel of wine from the fleet’s stores (Anonymous, 1567-88). Illegal sale of contraband goods was one of the most common among a litany of corrupt practices by officers of the fleets that sailed to the Americas. The practice was rife in the Galleons of the Indian Guard that escorted the annual fleets, and from which most of the officers of the Armada de Magallanes had been selected. Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa, the designated Governor of the Strait of Magellan, complained repeatedly that officers of the Magallanes fleet were engaged in black market trade, selling stores earmarked for the Strait to colonists at Rio de Janeiro and San Vicente. For Cuéllar, the criminal charges, while relatively minor compared to the accusation of dereliction of duty in the face of the enemy, must have served to add insult to injury in the affair, particularly as de Guino was known to be one of the most persistent offenders in this regard (Markham, 1895, p.273). However, when the fleet returned to Spain, the customary visita (inspection) that was applied to all returning fleets cleared Cuéllar of those charges (Cuéllar, 1585).

The evidence in the case was forwarded to Madrid, and in compliance with the order of the Casa, Cuéllar was conveyed under the custody of an officer of the law, Diego de Maldonado, to appear before the Council of the Indies. Maldonado had to provide official confirmation of his attendance at the hearing. Failing this, he was liable for any potential fines awarded against Cuéllar (Frias, 1584). Any further documentation concerning this case that may survive has not yet come to light, so we do not yet know what transpired at the Council of the Indies, or have any definitive judgement on the case. There is no reference to it among the Consultas (Deliberations) of the Council during this period. If, or when the case was heard, it appears that neither of the parties in the affair was sanctioned.

The affair at San Vicente was a clumsy military action where a seemingly easy opportunity to capture two formidable English galleons was squandered, resulting in significant casualties and damage to vessels, while the interlopers were allowed to escape. Presented as a moral victory by de Andres de Guino and Geronimó Leitón in saving the port from capture, the incident did influence the decision of the English commander, Captain Edward Fenton, to return to England, where he was imprisoned for the failure of his expedition. It is evident from the evidence of the case that, once the combat with the English commenced, culpability or blame for what transpired was well-nigh impossible to prove, but the questions raised by Cuéllar regarding Andres de Guino’s decision-making at key moments in the episode appear justified. De Guino did not serve in the fleets again. In 1586, he was dispatched to the recruit soldiers and sailors for the squadron of the Admiral, Juan Martinez de Recalde. Two years later he was awarded a knighthood in the order of Santiago, before being posted to serve as inspector of accounts at Santo Domingo.

The Armada of 1588

Two petitions submitted to the Council of War confirm Cuéllar’s presence at the Royal Court in January 1585 (Cuéllar, 1584, Cuéllar, 1585). Both documents request payment of wages owed to him for the Magallanes service and solicit a commission to serve in the Atlantic fleets. Cuéllar and seven other captains of the Magallanes expedition remained unemployed at court for the next two and a half years while they attempted to secure their wages and new commissions, without success. In June 1586, the Council of the Indies awarded them an advance of 100 escudos to assist with basic living costs (Consejo de Indias, 1586). Finally, a year later, on 21 June 1587, Cuéllar and his colleagues were awarded entretenimientos (permanent monthly salary) by the King (Philip II, 1587). They were then dispatched to Lisbon to serve as staff officers to the Marques de Santa Cruz, admiral of the fleet that was being prepared at Lisbon for the Enterprise of England.

When the fleet departed for England, Cuéllar sailed with the squadron of Castile. This unit was in reality the squadron of the Indian Guard. When the scheduled convoys for 1588 were cancelled, the Indian Guard was refitted in its home port of San Lúcar, renamed and transferred to Lisbon in order to augment the number of warships available to the Duke of Medina Sidonia, who was appointed Admiral after Santa Cruz died of illness (Chaunu, 1955, p.412). Cuéllar joined the other Magallanes captains who were given commands in this squadron. They included Gregorio de Las Alas (San Cristobal), brother of Captain Estevan de las Alas, who had testified on Cuéllar’s behalf at Seville, Marcos de Aramburu (San Juan Bautista), and Captain Juan de Garibay (Nuestra Señora del Barrio) (Pierson, 1989, p.235.43). Coincidentally, the squadron was also commanded by their former commander Diego Flores de Valdés. Cuéllar embarked at Lisbon without a command, but was made captain of the Galleon San Pedro, at La Coruña, when the squadron was reorganised after Flores transferred to the flagship to serve as adviser to Medina Sidonia.

In the English Channel, Cuéllar’s ship was assigned to the right wing of the Armada battle formation, which consisted of twenty vessels under the command of Juan Martinez de Recalde, vice-Admiral of the Armada (Pierson, 1989). The San Pedro was one of four principal warships on that wing, which included two Portuguese galleons; the San Juan (Recalde’s) and the San Mateo, and the Santa Maria de La Rosa, of the squadron of Guipúzcoa. Two other warships in a supporting echelon included a third Portuguese galleon, the San Felipe, and the Gran Grifon. They were subsequently part of an enlarged rear-guard of forty three fighting-ships when the formation was reorganised (Hume, 1899, p.396-97). Although the San Pedro is not mentioned in surviving reports of the fighting, it most likely saw action in the vicinity of the ships mentioned above. Cuéllar claimed that the ship suffered significant battle damage after the battle of Gravelines, with heavy casualties and numerous leaks caused by cannon-shot (Cuéllar, 1990, p.224-25).

During the engagements in the Channel the Spaniards had hoped defeat the English through boarding actions and the overwhelming superiority of their infantry. However, the superior sailing qualities of the English, and their reliance on artillery bombardment, frustrated all Spanish efforts to grapple with them. The Armada failed to join forces with the Duke of Parma when it was scattered by fire-ships at Calais. The dispersed elements were attacked by the English fleet off the Flemish port of Gravelines, and driven into the North Sea, preventing any possibility of a rendezvous with Parma’s army. Although it succeeded in regaining its formation, the Spanish fleet had lost six warships in action against the English, and many of the remaining combat vessels had received substantial damage. The Armada was forced to retreat while prevailing winds blew it northwards towards Scotland. The failure to defeat the English fleet and the foiled attempt to join with Parma’s invasion force rocked morale. Briefly, in the aftermath of Gravelines, surrender to the English was considered (Parker, 2006, p.86-92). Although in a council of war, Alonso de Leyva urged the Armada to return once more to the English Channel, he admitted privately to Juan Martinez de Recalde that he dreaded the prospect of facing the English fleet again (Parker, 2004, p.321). The Enterprise of England had failed to meet its objectives. It was left to the senior commanders to attempt to preserve the fleet, its crews and soldiers, and to return to La Coruná via the Atlantic route in order to ensure that a viable naval force continued to be deployed in Spanish waters. As the Armada withdrew from the Channel, the English fleet maintained a close pursuit until, as Francisco de Cuéllar ruefully admitted, it was “chased right away from his country”.

Court-Martial in the North Sea

The withdrawal from the English Channel was dictated by the elements, and justified by Medina Sidonia, who declared that the principal fighting ships no longer had sufficient ammunition for another major engagement (Hume, 1899, p.393). On 10 August, two days after the battle of Gravelines, the English appeared to hold off their pursuit. In the Carta, Cuéllar claimed the English had appeared to turn back, giving a wide berth to the rear elements of the Armada (Cuéllar, 1990, p.225). Regarding this as a favourable opportunity to carry out repairs, many ships moved to the front of the formation. Cuéllar admitted that seeing other vessels moving forward, the pilot of the San Pedro brought the ship “ahead of the flagship by something like two miles” in order to work on the damage. It was the first opportunity to repair damage since the battle of Gravelines, and many vessels had suffered substantial damage to hulls that caused dangerous leaks and affected their sailing ability. All were aware of the consequences of falling behind the fleet. However, as so many ships moved forward simultaneously, the strength of the rear-guard was noticeably diminished. According to Medina Sidonia, three galleasses and twelve principal fighting ships were all that remained in the rear (Hume, 1899, p.404). Sometime later, the English piled on sail, and closed once more with the Spanish rear-guard. It was a tactic they had employed the previous day when the Armada was perilously close to running aground on the Zeeland sandbanks (Hume, 1899, p.403). On that occasion, with the wind seemingly blowing the Armada to certain destruction, the English had maintained a safe distance. Now, it appeared they intended to engage the weakened rear-guard. Anticipating an attack, a shot was issued from the flagship signalling the fleet to stand-to, and the fighting ships to resume their battle formation. When there was no response, the signal was repeated, and then issued a third time when it became apparent that the order was being ignored. The English manoeuvre was a feint however, “a brag countenance” as the English Lord High Admiral described it, and the threatened attack never materialised. They fell back out of cannon range before an artillery exchange took place.

For Medina Sidonia, the fact that so many ships had disobeyed his order was a major concern. It reflected a serious breach of discipline, most likely caused by a collapse of morale engendered by the failure to defeat the English fleet, and disaffection within the fleet towards the senior command. By then, serious divisions permeated the high command of the Armada. Medina Sidonia was an excellent administrator and a courageous general, but he lacked experience of naval combat. Diego Flores, on whom he relied as senior naval advisor, had proven very cautious, and was unpopular throughout the fleet. His appointment had been made by order of the King, but it was a decision that was criticized (Parker, 1998). After the Armada entered the English Channel some of the senior squadron commanders favoured a more aggressive operation from the start. These were led by Recalde and Alonso Martinez de Leyva, commander designate in the event of Medina Sidonia’s death. Concerns were then exacerbated during the campaign, when a number of key decisions alienated the squadron commanders from those on the flagship. Similar to the scenario at San Vicente, subordinates with greater military experience than commanding officers, opposed tactical decisions they regarded as lacking initiative. Medina Sidonia decided against a pre-emptive strike against Plymouth, when many senior officers believed an attack would be advantageous in order to trap the English fleet in port, before it could take to the sea. Later in the week, he chose not to attempt a landing on the Isle of Wight, but to anchor off Calais before joining forces with the Duke of Parma. In the opinion of some senior officers this decision doomed the Armada (Parker, 2006, p.89-90). However, it was Diego Flores’ advice to Medina Sidonia to abandon a damaged vessel after the first day of combat that alienated many officers. The Nuestra Señora del Rosario of Pedro de Valdés was one of the strongest and best armed ships, but it was disabled after colliding with neighbouring vessels. When the Rosario fell behind Flores counselled the Duke not to risk the security of the fleet by waiting for it. The outcome caused widespread disquiet.

After the battle of Gravelines, senior commanders had little trust in the decision-making capacity onboard the flagship. Miguel de Oquendo, commander of the Guipozcoan squadron encapsulated the disdain for Diego Flores when, with the fleet trapped between the English and the Zeeland sandbanks, his ship pulled alongside the flagship. In reply to Medina Sidonia’s call for his estimation of their predicament, he retorted, “Ask Diego Flores. As for me, I am going to fight, and die like a man. Send me a supply of shot.” (Hume, 1899, p.446). Private correspondence exchanged between Recalde and de Leyva reveals growing anxiety and resentment among the squadron commanders that they would be named as culprits for the failure (Parker, 2004, p.314-347). Some took the precaution of writing down personal accounts of the campaign, in order to defend themselves against accusations they feared could be directed towards them. Writing his Carta a year after the events that he described, Cuéllar revealed (in what was ostensibly a self-defence of his own character), some of the resentment that he felt towards senior commanders when making disparaging remarks against Medina Sidonia’s generalship. He commented on the battles with the English in the Channel as “the usual disastrous outcome of his [Medina Sidonia] encounters with the enemy.”

It was in such an atmosphere that the events of 10 August took place. Faced with a potentially catastrophic breakdown in discipline, Medina Sidonia ordered his officials to identify the offending captains (Duro, 1888, p.396). Twenty officers were then summoned to the flagship, where an impromptu court-martial took place. He questioned two captains of vessels that had been closest to the San Martin, why they had not reacted to his command when they heard the signal shots. In reply, they admitted they believed the flagship was about to go under and had fled for safety (Duro, 1888, p.407-08). This sentiment was highlighted later in a special report commissioned by the King to investigate the conduct of the Armada. Its author, Juan de Cardona, noted that in the aftermath of Gravelines, discipline within the fleet had deteriorated significantly, as many thought only for their own safety, and of returning to Spain (Herrera Oria, 1929, p.351-55). In order to stamp out disaffection, Medina Sidonia condemned the guilty officers to death. According to Alonso Vanegas, all twenty captains were to be executed (Duro, 1888, p.396). Curiously, Medina Sidonia did not commit to writing what had taken place during the court-martial. In a despatch to the King, conveyed by Don Baltasar de Zùñiga, he described the events of the day, but merely suggested that Zùñiga would personally relate what had taken place afterwards (Herrera Oria, 1929, p.247).

The Carta indicates that, on being ordered to the flagship, Cuéllar had not reached the San Martin before Medina Sidonia delivered his verdict. He claimed that he was stopped en route and informed by others conveying the Duke’s order, that he was to be put to death. He proceeded to the San Martin, but when he arrived on deck Medina Sidonia had retired to his cabin, while those he appealed to for clemency “...refused to listen to me or to many gentlemen who intervened on my behalf...” In the Duke’s absence, it appeared that Maestre de Campo (Field General), Francisco de Bobadilla, had taken control of affairs. With an almost theatrical flourish, Cuéllar described how he reacted to his conviction by exclaiming that he thought “I would burst with indignation, and called on all to witness the great injustice that was being done to me, since I had served so well, as would be confirmed in writing.” Essentially, Cuéllar lodged a formal appeal against the sentence that was imposed on him.

In his account, there is no mention of Diego Flores’ presence on the flagship at this time, even though he was well acquainted with Cuéllar. Unfortunately, the documentation concerned with San Vicente does not shed any light on the personal relationship between the pair. Given their previous history it is curious that Cuéllar did not refer to him. Perhaps Flores was one of “the many gentlemen” who made representations on his behalf. At the time that Cuéllar wrote the Carta, Flores had been made the scapegoat for the failure of the Armada, and was imprisoned in Burgos. That Cuéllar chose not to make any disparaging remarks about him, as he did with Medina Sidonia and Bobadilla, might indicate that he retained a level of respect/loyalty towards Flores.

Inquiry of the Judge Advocate

Although we don’t have official records of what took place, it is quite clear from the Carta that a formal judicial process was set in motion. A Judge Advocate, Martin de Aranda, was assigned to the Armada. It was his role to adjudicate on civil or criminal cases, and legal matters that arose (Goodman, 1997, p.229). He sailed aboard the Lavia, a ship of the Levant squadron, and had a team of roughly twenty officials under him. These consisted of a chief assistant; a licentiate named Magaña, four notaries, six military police, a jailer and six guards, and other unnamed officials (Herrera Oria, 1929, p.389). When Cuéllar appealed against the sentence, Bobadilla referred him to Aranda, and an inquiry into Cuéllar’s conduct began.

It may be inferred from what Cuéllar says in the Carta, that the process, probably convened on the Lavia, was similar to the inquiries at Seville and San Vicente. Cuéllar requested a copy of the order against him. Testimonies were then collected on the San Pedro to verify his conduct as “a good soldier and loyal subject on all occasions and in all the action we saw with the enemy fleet...” Cuéllar claimed that at the time that his ship vacated its position in the rear-guard, he was asleep and unaware of what was occurring, as the pilot acted without his permission. It was a standard procedure for captains to take charge of the night watch, when the ship was at its most vulnerable, and to sleep in the early part of the day (Rahn-Phillips, 1992, p.121). Moreover, Cuéllar was hardly exaggerating when he claimed “I had been ten days on the go without a wink of sleep, because I was doing my duty...” Clearly, lack of sleep applied to all in the fleet during the previous ten days. He stated that Aranda, after questioning him, ordered a report to be drawn up. It might be assumed that a list of questions concerning Cuéllar’s character and conduct during the campaign was prepared, as well as questions concerning what had transpired when the San Pedro failed to respond to the signal from the flagship. Witnesses would then most likely have been transferred from the San Pedro to offer testimony before the Judge Advocate, and his notaries.

When the report was complete, the Judge Advocate, offered a judgement in support of Cuéllar. He wrote to Medina Sidonia explaining the reasons why he felt he should not be executed. It is possible that he also forwarded a transcript of the report. Cuéllar stated that he too, wrote a letter to the Duke. This is consistent with the inquiry at Seville, where Cuéllar submitted a detailed testimony defending his actions that ran to six pages (Frias, 1584). Although the Judge Advocate recommended clemency, the final verdict still rested with Medina Sidonia. Aranda stipulated that, if the Duke upheld the death sentence on Cuéllar, he would require a written order, signed by him, in order to carry out the execution. The Carta then states that Medina Sidonia endorsed the Judge Advocate’s finding. The death sentence on Cuéllar was remitted, as it was for the other captains, except for one unfortunate, Don Cristobal de Ávila, captain of the Santa Barbara. Instead, according to one eyewitness, some were condemned to the galleys, while other “soldier-officers” were stripped of their commands (Hume, 1899, p.447). On 11 August, Ávila was hung from the yardarm of a pinnace. His corpse was then paraded around the fleet as a warning against any repeat of what had occurred the previous day. It was military discipline in its starkest form, but merely reflected the perils that the Armada faced, and the absolute necessity for the senior commanders to remain in control.

Cuéllar intimated in the Carta that he was ‘freed’ after the verdict. It is more likely that he fell into the latter category of soldier-officers who were stripped of their commands, as he was not restored to the San Pedro, but remained with the Judge Advocate on the Lavia. He stayed on that vessel until it was shipwrecked in Ireland. It was a remarkable turn of events that he had found himself accused of a breach of discipline and facing legal sanctions for a second time. We do not know if Cuéllar was the only officer to challenge the decision of the court-martial, there are no records to suggest the other captains followed suit. Under the circumstances, that he was able to appeal the decision and defend himself successfully in 1588, was a consequence of the legal grounding he had acquired during the case with Andrés de Guino some years earlier. Regardless of his qualities as an officer, legal dexterity and a talent for rhetoric may have been the principal reasons why Cuéllar was shown clemency, and the other condemned man, Don Cristobal de Ávila, was not. Even in the Spanish military of the late sixteenth century, it appears that at times, the pen was as mighty as the sword.



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Ann Murray

A War of Images: Otto Dix and the Myth of the War Experience

Ann Murray

Department of Art History, UCC

 The loss of World War I (1914-1918) forced Germany into a decade of uncertainty: the conversion to democracy, crippling war reparations and runaway inflation plunged the country into dire socio-political upheaval. Despite such devastation, the army and the government perpetuated militant imagery through the popular press and other media:  highly fabricated, idealised images of soldierhood proliferated throughout the 1920s. Simultaneously, the traumatic effects of combat on the nation’s veterans were played down, exemplified by the reluctance to accept war trauma as a legitimate illness.  This paper explores representations of soldierhood in the work of German soldier-artist Otto Dix (1891-1969) during the 1920s, focusing on how Dix’s work negated the mythologizing of the war experience and exposed the effects of industrialized warfare on the body during a time when the government and the army sought to conceal these effects. The monumental battlefield pictures Der Schützengraben [The Trench] (1920-1923) and the triptych Krieg [War] (1929-1932), and the cycle of etchings Der Krieg [The War] (1924) reveal the artist’s efforts to counter negative scrutiny of soldiers, particularly with regard to how the body was expected to survive the effects of industrialised warfare.

These works are reconsidered here as stinging pictorial critiques of the widespread idealization of militant masculinity in 1920s Germany. Virulently non-conformist in his projection of modern warfare, Dix challenged the popular, romanticizing imagery of the heroic, militarized male, his pictures tracking attempts to nullify the mythologizing of the war experience that pervaded popular media. With reference to the works’ provenance, the socio-political climate and the artist’s recollections, the genesis of Dix’s battlefront pictures is re-evaluated within the contexts for which the pictures were originally intended.


I’m back again from hell

With loathsome thoughts to sell;

Secrets of death to tell;

And horrors from the abyss.


But a curse is on my head,

That shall not be unsaid,

And the wounds in my heart are red,

For I have watched them die.

Siegfried Sassoon, To the Warmongers, 1917. 

Found guilty of causing World War I, Germany’s nascent democratic government grappled with crippling war reparations, social and economic upheaval, and the restoration of national pride. Such conditions, which plagued the Weimar government throughout its tenure, urged a re-assessment of the cost of the war to the health and economy of the nation (Willett, 1996). The government and army, reticent in acknowledging defeat and attempting to assign blame to homefront dissidence for the loss of the war through the so-called ‘stab-in-the-back’ theory, continued to promote an excessively militant brand of patriotism, accompanied by idealized literary and visual accounts of soldierhood (Mosse, 1990, pp.7-50).[1] While there were attempts in all the belligerent nations, through literary and visual means, to justify the loss of so many young men, the prevalence of heroic imagery in Germany was particularly marked. Weimar politics retained a high respect for, and glorification of, the military, and as the war itself became more distant, the establishment of the myth of the war experience, as George Mosse termed it, gained a lasting resonance with those too young to fight in World War I (ibid, p.7). Idealising imagery helped counter the indigestible reality of industrialized warfare, promoting war as glorious and justified (Figs. 1-2), while recourse to age-old heroic imagery became increasingly prevalent and reinforced (Fig. 3). Instances of such material gradually increased throughout the 1920s and were distributed widely in publications such as the lavishly illustrated Reichsarchiv series and periodicals such as Simplicissimus.[2] Concurrent with the promotion of myth-making imagery, the German government – while pioneering in the establishment of a welfare state, provided hopelessly inadequate assistance to heal the bodies and minds of veterans. The “doubtful legitimacy” attached to war trauma (Leed, 2000, p.35) in debates surrounding pension payments further emasculated physically and mentally disabled veterans, as the term became progressively associated with cowardice, and attitudes among the public were, as a result, characteristically ambivalent. To many ex-combatants, this must have seemed like an attempt to obliterate a shameful past, of which they were part. The absence of support, even for war heroes, is encapsulated in images of Iron Cross awardees forced into beggary (Fig. 4). The “real war,” states Modris Eksteins (2000), had ceased to exist by 1918; “thereafter it was swallowed by imagination in the guise of memory” (p.297). In Germany’s culture of defeat, (Schivelbusch, 2003, p.1), the need for restorative imagery was arguably greater; thus, veterans’ traumatic experiences were played down and cruelly pushed aside by those in power (Lerner, 2009).  During a time when reactionary imagery was widely circulated, the extent of veterans’ injuries, and in turn their right to a pension, was disputed by the medical profession, working in tandem with the War Ministry (Lerner, p.120). Cruel, inhuman attempts to cure war neurosis included the infamous Kaufmann method, in which strong electrical currents were passed into the throats of Kreigsneurotiker (Ulrich, 2010, p.92).  Its employment had two objectives: make the traumatised fit for work, or if at all possible, avoid substantial pension payments through a diagnosis of ‘hysteria’, which, unlike war neurosis, was not a listed illness.

This paper explores representations of soldierhood in the battlefield pictures of German soldier artist Otto Dix during the 1920s, focusing on how they functioned to challenge the mythologizing of the war experience in the popular press and expose the effects of industrialized warfare on the body during a time when the government and the army sought to play down these effects through questioning the masculinity of mentally and physically injured veterans. Images such as The Trench (1920-1923), the cycle of etchings The War (1924) and War (1929-1932) locate Dix amongst these traumatised soldiers, and document his efforts to counter negative scrutiny of soldiers, particularly with regard to how the body was expected to survive the effects of industrialised warfare.[3]

Dix experienced the entire war on the front line, was wounded five times and awarded the Iron Cross for bravery in 1915. In common with many other soldier-artists, much of Dix’s oeuvre is redolent of his status as a participant in the war; while no claim is made here that Dix’s work can only be interpreted through his war experience, an examination of his work from the perspective of the soldier uncovers the operative role of his war imagery – that of challenging the false image of the Kriegserlebnis projected by right-wing factions, which included much of the army’s officer class.[4] In addition, working-class Dix was particularly sensitive towards the treatment of veterans from the same social strata, whose post-war experience was strongly influenced by their social background. The working class soldier most often experienced the bloodiest battles first-hand and was therefore more exposed to physical and mental injury. It was these soldiers who suffered most in the so-called ‘pension wars’: unmanly demeanour and inborn weakness were attached to their bodies’ failure to recover from combat (Bourke, 1999; Holden, 1998).

Idealizing imagery, as Dix would have understood, was assisted by the traditional model of German masculinity prevalent before, during and after the war. This model was synonymous with a militant masculinity, defined as a physical, moral and aesthetic ideal: a muscular, well-proportioned physique, combined with steely mental resilience and a chivalrous disposition. Discourses surrounding the idealised male body and militarism emerged in relation to the Battle of Leipzig (1812-14), the largest battle in Western history before World War I, and in which the German kingdoms of Prussia and Saxony, alongside other anti-French forces, effected Napoleon’s retreat from central Europe. This ideal became an integral part of military training from the mid-1800s onward in a drive to produce model specimens of masculinity and by 1914 had become firmly ingrained in German culture. It was a model that summoned imagery of a glorious past which mythologised and romanticised the concept of soldierhood, while the use of motifs such as outmoded weaponry were reminders of Germany’s triumphs as a warrior nation.

It is significant that the Battle of Leipzig’s one hundredth anniversary was celebrated just before the outbreak of World War I. In 1914, the memory of this great victory regained prominence as Germany went to war, through a plethora of images recalling the triumphs of 1812-1814 (Fig. 5). By the time Dix had begun War, such imagery had gained a foothold in the popular press. The sword-wielding, armour-clad central figure in the frontispiece of a 1928 German National Press publication is modelled on the legend of the handsome heroic knight Siegfried in the famous German Medieval epic poem Die Nibelungenlied (Fig. 6). In the poem, Siegfried, invincible in battle, is betrayed from within his own ranks and killed in a manner which is dishonourable to a knight, making the poem a romantic reflection of the stab-in-the-back theory. The integrity of body and mind in Siegfried’s makeup was significant, “for it focused the image of man and gave it cohesion” (Mosse, 2000, p.101). Its success lay in its restoration of pride, encouraging as it did a vision of warfare as a noble and meaningful sacrifice. While there were attempts in all belligerent nations to legitimize the cost to life, the myth gained a much stronger footing in defeated countries, culminating in Germany, with its eventual adoption in Hitler’s bellicose rhetoric in the 1920s and 30s. It served to counter reports of widespread disillusionment with the officer class by lower-ranking, working-class soldiers (Bessel, 259), and instead projected an image of the army as a consolidated unit, weakened only, as Siegfried had been, by traitors from within the ranks. With the economy stabilized by 1924 and working-class uprisings effectively quelled, the pacifist movement was all but quashed by the ruling Social Democrats.[5] As a result, heroic imagery, which appeared in widely-read patriotic picture albums, far outnumbered anti-war imagery in the graphic and fine arts. By 1932, the year in which Dix completed his triptych War and by which time reactionary politics had gained overwhelming support in Germany, this legitimizing element had gained such a hold on culture that veterans who voiced their experience as positive and justified were those most warmly embraced, while those who voiced its negative effects were much less likely to be heeded, or even worse, branded as unpatriotic or cowardly. 

The controversy surrounding Dix’s painting The Trench, possibly more than any other work of art of the period, exemplifies the turbulence that existed in German politics and society during the period. A huge painting (now lost) whose composition situates the viewer in the trench with the shattered bodies of dead, decomposing soldiers, The Trench was surely designed to confront the viewer with the reality of mechanized warfare. Reactionaries’ widespread appraisal of Ernst Jünger’s celebrated, predominantly right-wing novel Storm of Steel (1920), in contrast to the negative press they levelled at The Trench,is indicative of the power of the myth.[6] Storm of Steel is the memoir of Jünger’s experiences on the Western Front, with graphic accounts of trench warfare; Jünger completely revised the book for a new publisher in 1924 – the so-called anti-war year – in which the author emphasises the notion of heroic blood sacrifice. However, Jünger’s prose curbed the pain of loss through the glorification of a ‘noble death’: “Bravery, fearless risking of one’s life, is always inspiring” (Jünger, p.213). Dix, on the other hand, eschewing any offering of false heroism, exposed the reality of warfare through the most visceral pictorial means possible, and thus executed possibly the most controversial painting of the decade. The Trench is clearly a re-visitation of the trenches in its depiction of the aftermath of an artillery attack on a German trench on the Western Front. When The Trench was exhibited in Berlin in 1924, prominent art historian Julius Meier-Graefe exacted a blistering derision of its artist in his very public criticism of the academy’s president Max Liebermann’s decision to exhibit the work, stating that:

This Trench is not only bad, but is infamy itself, with a pungent delight in detail […], not of the sensuous kind but of the conceptual. Brains, blood, guts painted to make the mouth water. This Dix is sickening. Mr Dix probably works in the name of pacifism, the well-known theory of deterrence […]. (Graefe, pp. 23-24).[7]

The multiplicity of body parts makes it impossible to identify any one figure, with the exception of the rotting, crucified corpse suspended over the trench in the middle ground. The decaying bodies reflect the description of one veteran, who said that “what was wretched about death was not the fact that men had been killed”, but that wartime corpses were so “limp and mean-looking: this [was] the devil of it, that a man [was] not only killed, but made to look so vile and filthy in death, so futile and meaningless, that the sight of him was hated” (West, 1917, p.67).

On a deeply personal level, The Trench represents the artist’s attempts to release the traumatic grip of the war: a desperate attempt to release oneself from the overwhelming psychological burden of the horror of the trenches and the dying utterances of fallen soldiers.[8] In an earnest tone, Dix said of the painting:

As a young man, one does not realise that one is extremely stressed out internally. For years, at least ten years, I had these dreams in which I had to crawl through shattered homes (serious tone), through corridors through which I could barely pass. The ruins were continually in my dreams. It’s not that painting for me is packed with fear, no. But [the war experience] was a certain part of my being. That is without a doubt. (Wetzel, 1965, p.745) [9]

The excessive realism and attention to detail separates The Trench from other images that the artist had executed to date and is, in effect, a soldier’s monument to (and defence of) those who fought in the trenches. “That is how it was on those autumn days in the trenches south of Soissons,” remarked fellow veteran, Alfred Salmony, then curator at Cologne’s Museum of East-Asian Art (1924, p.8). Willi Wolfradt, a critic who, unlike Meier-Graefe, was a strong supporter of young German artists, published the first monograph on Dix in autumn 1924 and responded directly to Meier-Graefe’s criticism, stating that  “Julius Meier-Graefe has for example described [The Trench] as disgraceful. [But] it was painted to sicken, not to comfort...just as a frontline soldier paint[s]. [Dix] spares no brutality of expression, no bloodlust, only to be seen to act… to break the terrible forgetfulness of the people…Dix is a single obstruction against the subtle little picture, which acts as if nothing has happened.” (Wolfradt, pp.13-14).[10] Wolfradt reinforces Dix’s status as participant, as a Frontschwein of the trenches. The Trench reaffirms Dix’s kinship with veterans, as one of the many millions of survivors in whose psyche alone the death-cries of comrades were still heard and whose suffering continued at the hands of a government who sought to question their bravery and make them all but invisible. Following a visit to a hospital for the facially-disfigured, Erich Kuttner, founder of the largest association of disabled veterans during the Weimar years, protested against governmental policy in his article Vergessen!:

How many people have the slightest idea that there are still about twenty military hospitals in Berlin with more than two thousand inmates...and how many of those who know about this have asked themselves how a man’s body might look…after two, three, five or six years of medical treatment […] located in remote loneliness […] here one can find […] the men without faces. The uncomfortable existence of these war victims is forgotten. (1920, pp.81-82)

It is a widely known fact that photography of battles was not allowed and that the most shocking images of the war took several years to reach the public, if at all (ibid, pp.1-13); with the most horrifically maimed veterans hidden away, little wonder then that ex-soldier Dix’s painting gained a certain potency.

The composition of The Trench constitutes the building block for the central panel of the triptych, War, which possibly surpasses The Trench in its gruesomeness and recalls Matthias Grünewald’s rendering of the crucified Christ in his Isenheim Altarpiece (Fig. 7). Grünewald had been recently ‘rediscovered’ and, incidentally, heralded as the greatest painter that northern Europe had ever produced, by Meier-Graefe (Crockett, 1992, p.79).[11] Grünewald’s altarpiece was created for the hospital order of the Anthonites, and, during Grünewald’s time, to care for suffers of a condition called ergotism, or St. Anthony’s fire. The image of the pock-marked, bloodied body of the tortured Christ was intended to provide spiritual healing for the sick. Similarly, Dix acknowledges the suffering of comrades in a landscape ground up with the blood and flesh of soldiers. Dix’s use of the triptych format, the inclusion of entombed soldiers in a predella, and the rich, grimly luxuriant transparent glazes recall the tragic splendour of Grünewald’s enduring image of agony. A decapitated head crowned with barbed wire (bottom left foreground, central panel), almost invisible in reproductions but almost rolling at the viewer’s feet when one stands before the painting, clearly alludes to Christ’s crown of thorns and betrays a deliberate attempt to associate the soldier’s suffering with Christian sacrifice, sealing this image’s societal function: that of defending and justifying the recollections of German veterans, and acknowledging their suffering.[12] Recourse to Grünewald’s enduring image of agony within the context of the martyred soldierwas hardly accidental. As much as heroic imagery of soldierhood was bound in German tradition, so too was imagery of the crucified Christ. The multi-panelled altarpiece was the pictorial focus of Christian churches and the Crucifixion one of its most popular subjects. In addition, emphasis on suffering is closely identified with the Northern tradition of painting, and as an adherent of Lucas Cranach and Hans Baldung Grien, in addition to Grünewald, Dix was bathing his ‘altarpiece’ in an iconographic tradition that could compete with militant idealism. Dix said of the image:

The picture began ten years after the First World War. I had made many studies during those years, in order to process the war experience artistically. In 1928 I felt ready to tackle the big theme [...]. At this time many books in the Weimar Republic were again promoting notions of the hero and heroism, long since reduced to absurdity in the trenches of the War. People had begun to forget the terrible suffering the war had brought to them. From this situation arose the triptych [...] I did not want to cause fear and panic, but impart knowledge about the awfulness of war and thus awaken people’s powers of resistance. (Hagen, 1964, p.4)[13]  

The validity of Dix’s War as a stab of authenticity (and deterrence) is delineated most clearly when compared to the many mythologizing photographs of well-manicured trenches and cosy, almost homely images of life behind enemy lines that filled the Reichsarchiv series of the 1920s (figs 8-9). While the myth “sought to mask war and legitimize the war experience, [and] displace the reality of war” (Mosse, 1990, p.7), War, in effect, de-legitimizes  it.

In 1924, Dix exhibited his cycle of etchings, The War, for the first time in Berlin. Based largely on the artist’s numerous wartime drawings, and to some extent his study of mummies in the Palermo catacombs and Ernst Friedrich’s photographs of maimed veterans (see below), as a unit they form a pictorial record of the daily trials of the frontline soldier, recording the close contact and intimate knowledge of the subject that only one who had experienced war could hope to achieve. The catalogue produced for the launch of the series contained a foreword written by French pacifist writer and fellow veteran, Henri Barbusse, with whose novel, Under Fire (1916), Dix associated his etchings. The historical moment, the tenth anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, the so-called ‘anti-war’ year, when furious debates between Left and Right on social and political issues directly related to the consequences of the war reached a peak, was crucial to the exhibition’s message.   

While Dix’s war imagery overall was not motivated solely by an unfavourable attitude to war, the anti-war context within which the etchings were deliberately placed cannot be ignored. Overwhelming evidence points to the cycle as a virulent response to the government’s treatment of veterans, and there are few indictments of warfare as powerful as The War, or in its time, anything that challenged right-wing politics and its idealizing imagery with such ferocity. Wolfradt’s opinion that The War was Dix’s most effective work to date (1924, pp.14-15) is reflected by gallery owner Hermann Abels’ response to the etchings in a letter to Karl Nierendorf: “If the new etchings are to be considered a German memorial to the unknown soldier, this is not just an error of judgement in your endorsement of them, but an outrage that every frontline soldier must take as the deepest insult.” (1924).[14] Nierendorf was then prompted to write to Dix: “Nearly all bookshops do not want to put this book in their window display for fear of having their windows smashed. The German book trade has become very swastika-oriented (1924).”[15]

The organisation and treatment of the subject matter of The War clearly point to one who had lived the war experience,  - while the series may at first appear to have no logical order, to the war veteran, it  made complete sense. The disordered and unexpected process of daily life mirrors the content of Barbusse’s novel.          The etchings are titled with the locations where the artist and his unit saw battle, thus producing a photojournalistic account: snapshots of the everyday experience of warfare. In addition, Dix’s return to the theme through his pictures easily reflect Michael Hofmann’s remarks on Ernst Jünger’s seven revisions of The Storm of Steel: “Jünger tinkered with the novel, one would have to say, obsessively […] As well as being one of the earliest books on World War I, Storm of Steel is also one of the newest” (2003, p.xii). Jünger’s and Dix’s ‘tinkering’ with their memories of the War evidences that their work functioned as a means of coping with the persistent memory of the war. However, Jünger’s writing is peppered with the outmoded brand of heroism and the right-wing patriotism perpetuated in popular culture. Referring to traumatised soldiers as cowards, a sentiment that would resonate more comfortably with those who needed to blame someone or something for the loss of the war, he stated: “I have always pitied the coward, in whom battle arouses a series of hellish tortures, while the spirit of the brave man merely rises the higher to meet a chain of exciting experiences” (2003, p.158). Dix’s opposing ideological standpoint surely led him to align himself with the Socialist, Barbusse. There is nothing celebratory or glorious in Barbusse’s writing or Dix’s imagery, either in the events of the living or the portrayal of the dead. His pictures are the processing of the war’s legacy, recalling it with striking vividness almost six years after the end of the war.

The mastery of technique deployed in Dix’s oeuvre is constantly referred to as an obsession with the obscene and revolting and, indeed, one may question why such a profusion of dead bodies populate Dix’s work in comparison to other artists of World War I, a fact that appears to substantiate claims for Otto Dix as a pornographer of gore.  Indeed, historian Theodore K. Rabb singled out Dix’s prints in particular for criticism: “[T]he unrelenting gruesomeness of the images […] arouse revulsion and dismay rather than any admiration for the artist” (2011, p.191). Yet, this obsession is equally revelatory of an artist who had a need to describe and record as faithfully as possible.

Later, in 1924, Dix accepted an invitation to exhibit the etchings alongside Kӓthe Kollwitz’s series of woodcuts, entitled Krieg, and Ernst Friedrich’s collection of photographs entitled Krieg dem Kriege  [War against War](published in book form just before the exhibition), in Friedrich’s newly-founded International War Museum in Berlin. In 1924 in particular, the myth of the war experience, employed with tenacity in recruiting posters and other media, minimized the visibility of maimed veterans; in German film, staged scenes replaced actual events and very few wounded or dead German soldiers (but plenty of well cared for wounded men) appeared. Such imagery instilled a sense of lost opportunity to prove one’s manhood in Germans who were too young to take up arms in 1914. The exhibition provoked outrage when Friedrich displayed some of the most shocking images in his shop window, with police confiscating the images at bayonet point. But support came from liberals, notably from war veteran and pacifist writer, Kurt Tucholsky, who described Friedrich’s collection as “the most shocking and horrible photographs imaginable, unlike anything I had ever seen” warning that “no written work can come near the power of the these images [...] Whoever sees these and does not shudder is not a human being, but a patriot” (1926, pp.313-314).

While it may be argued that the photograph is less prone to fabrication than drawn or painted imagery, the work of an ex-soldier is not so easily discredited. Alongside the content of Kollwitz’s imagery and Friedrich’s photographs, which were exhibited with antimilitarist captions and commentary, Dix seems to say: I am a veteran of the war and this is what has happened to me and millions of others; we have experienced horror beyond human imagination in which even the most mentally robust soldier crumbles

In common with Friedrich’s purpose, Dix sought to counter those heroic, idealised images that identified the soldier with Germany’s military and industrial might. The result is a visual legacy that negates every facet of the myth and exposes the physical and mental damage exacted on the living, and forces passage through the mired stench of the battlefields. Dead Men before their Position near Tahure shows the two decomposing heads of soldiers, one of whom is identified only by his dog-tag. In Dead Soldier, St. Clement, the soldier is shown as a discarded, slaughtered animal, his eye clouded with decay and his tongue forced out of his mouth. Mealtime in the Trench - Loretto Heights could not be further from the constructed imagery of the photo albums. A soldier eats while the steam rising from his flask is suffused with the fetid odour of decomposition. His only companion is a rotting cadaver who is simultaneously being eaten by the worms.

Bravery is implied here also, in that the veteran who survived such a nightmare had proven his valour. Considering the social landscape, and the recent furore surrounding The Trench, Dix understood that such imagery would be received quite differently by those who had fought in the war than by ordinary citizens. The reception of the images by civilians measured the toughness of the non-combatant against that of the veteran, challenging in some measure the doubt attached to the masculine worth of traumatised soldiers.

The sensationalism aroused by these images has led to assessment of the prints as reflective of a pungent delight in grotesquerie rather than a drive to accurately communicate the reality of trench warfare, but within the context of the anti-war year, anything less graphic would not have served the purpose. While right-wing factions, steadily growing in number, considered another war necessary to repudiate the decisions made by the Allies at Versailles and recover from the ‘stab in the back’, Dix’s gruesome imagery served to counteract the myth of endurance on which the ‘stab in the back’ theory depended.  

To conclude, The Trench, the triptych War, and The War resulted from a will on the part of the artist to uphold the moral sanctity of the soldier and to counteract the doubt attached to war trauma as a legitimate illness by revealing to the public the true viciousness of the war. The loss of identity through the concealment of maimed veterans and the generalizing of the war experience through mythologizing imagery is confronted through the pictures’ restoration of the soldier’s agency. Within their socio-political context, Dix’s imagery functioned to counter the media’s idealisation of soldierhood by responding to criticism of shattered veterans through visual recollection of traumatic events; as an ex-soldier, the picturing of his own memory served as evidence of the horror of industrialized warfare and addressed the opinions and attitudes of an ambivalent society that either failed to grasp or chose to forget the extent of veterans’ sacrifices.

[1] The ‘stab in the back’ theory was the notorious Dolchstosslegende,the legend of an undefeated German army betrayed from within. Military leaders such as Erich Ludendorff and Paul von Hindenburg blamed dissidence on the home front as causing the loss of World War I for Germany. The Dolchstosslegende openly recalled the fate of the heroic warrior Siegfried in the popular German Medieval epic poem, Die Nibelungenlied [The Song of the Nibelung]. In the poem, Siegfried is betrayed by Hagen, an enemy within Siegfried’s circle.

[2] The entire catalogue of Simplicissimus may be found at: www.simplicissimus.info.

[3] For copyright reasons, illustrations of works by Otto Dix cannot be reproduced here. An essay (German) and illustration of The Trench is available on the website of the University of Heidelberg: http://archiv.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/artdok/2238/1/Schubert_Otto_Dix_das_Triptychon_Der_Krieg_1929_1932_2005.pdf. High-quality digital reproductions of The War can be found on the website of the Museum of Modern Art, New York: http://www.moma.org/collection/object.php?object_id=63259. An online guide to War is available on the website of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden: http://www.skd.museum/en/special-exhibitions/otto-dix-der-krieg-war/index.html.

[4] Numerous writers and artists, both liberal and reactionary, from all the countries involved in the War produced work in response to their experience. Reactionary material in Germany included the widely circulated and lavishly illustrated Hindenburg-Denkmal: Für das deutsche Volk, Eine Ehrengabe zum 75. Geburtstage des Generalfeldmarschalls, ed. by Karl Lindner and others (Berlin, 1923) and Ehrendenkmal der Deutschen Armee, 1871-1918, ed. by General d. Inf. a. D. Von Eisenhart Rothe,Volks-Ausgabe (Berlin and Munich, 1928). Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front (1929) is perhaps the best known of the anti-war German literature; British soldier-writer Siegfried Sassoon’s Memoirs of an Infantry Officer (1930) is a comparable example of anti-war sentiment in the literature of the victorious nations. Many German artists who had spent time on the battlefields attempted to counter the huge volume of reactionary material, George Grosz (1893-1959, Hans Grundig (1901-1958) and Heinrich Hoerle (1895-1936) among them. For a detailed analysis of the the art of World War I, see Cork, R., 1994, A Bitter Truth: Avant-Garde Art and the Great War. New Haven: Yale University Press. For a sustained study of the veteran’s experience, see Leed, E., 1981, No Man’s Land: Combat and Identity in World War I, Cambridge University Press.

[5] Bessel notes that pacifism found “no appreciable echo in the politics of Weimar Germany. ‘Pacifist’ generally remained a term of political abuse, not a badge of honour” (1993, p.262).

[6] Ernst Jünger’s Storm of Steel was revised a total of seven times, the novel somewhat changing in tone with each revision. Michael Hofmann’s 2003 translation is based on the eighth and final edition, published in 1961. See Hofmann’s introduction to his translation for an illuminating critique of Jünger’s modifications to the novel.

[7] “Dieser Schützengraben ist nicht nur schlecht, sondern infamy gemalt, mit einer penetranten Freude am Detail […] nicht am sinnlichen Detail, sondern am begrifflichen. Gehirn, Blut, Gedärm können so gemalt werden, daß einem das Wasser im Munde zusammenläuft. Dieser Dix ist […] zum Kotzen. Wahrscheinlich hat Herr Dix in aller Einfalt für den Pazifismus wirken wollen, die bekannte Abschreckungstheorie.” Unless otherwise indicated, translations from the German are my own.

[8] There is no sustained study of Dix’s artistic responses to the war experience. However, useful sources are: McGreevy, L., 2001, Bitter Witness, New York: Peter Lang; Hartley, K. S., 1992, Otto Dix 1891-1969, London: Tate Publishing; Fox, P., 2006, Confronting         Postwar Shame in Weimar Germany: Trauma, Heroism and the War Art of Otto Dix, Oxford Art Journal, 29. Available through: Boole Library, University College Cork website www.booleweb.ucc.ie [Accessed 6 June 2010].

[9] “Als junger Mensch merkt man das ja gar nicht, daß man im Innern doch belastet war. Denn ich hab jahrelang, mindestens zehn Jahre lang immer diese Träume gehabt, in denen ich durch zertrümmerte Häuser kriechen mußte, (ernst) durch Gänge, durch die ich kaum durchkam. Die Trümmer waren fortwährend in meinen Träumen…nicht, daß das Malen für mich auch nicht ‘die Angst’ gepackt, nein, aber es war eben ein bestimmter Teil…vielleicht auch meines Wesens. Das ist ja ohne Zweifel so.”

[10] “Meier-Graefe z. B. hat es geradezu ‘infam’ genannt… Wie halt so ein Frontschwein malt… Er scheut keine Brutalität des Ausdrucks, keine Blutrünstigkeit, um nur gesehen zu werden, zu wirken…die furchtbare Vergeßlichkeit der Menschen zu durchbrechen… Dix ist eine einzige Obstrukton gegen das subtile Bildchen, das so tut, als ob nichts gewesen ist.”

[11] Julius Meier-Graefe was possibly the most esteemed and widely-read art critic in Germany in the first quarter of the twentieth century. However, he very rarely supported contemporary European art. To gain insight to his views on art, see Meier-Graefe, J., 1908, Modern Art: Being a Contribution to a New System of Aesthetics, London: William Heinemann. For a critical appraisal of his work, see Moffett, K. 1973, Meier-Graefe as Art Critic, Munich: Prestel Verlag.

[12] It is true that reactionaries as well as liberals utilized Christian iconography in their war-related texts and images; Christianity was the common faith and the reserve of neither faction. Reactionary imagery, however, tended to use Christian iconography as a means to project war as legitimate sacrifice, not as terrible suffering.

[13] “Das Bild entstand zehn Jahre nach dem ersten Weltkrieg. Ich hatte während dieser Jahre viele Studien gemacht, um das Kriegserlebnis künstlerisch zu verbeiten. 1928 fühlte ich mich reif, das große Thema anzupacken […] In dieser Zeit übrigens propagierten  viele Bücher ungehindert in der Weimarer Republik erneut ein Heldentum und einen Heldenbegriff, die in den Schützengräben des 1. Weltkrieges längst ad absurdum geführt worden waren. Die Menschen begannen schon zu vergessen, was für entsetzliches Leid der Krieg ihnen gebracht hatte. Aus dieser Situation heraus entstand das Triptychon […] Ich wollte also nicht Angst und Panik auslösen, sondern Wissen um die Furchtbarkeit eines Krieges vermitteln und damit die Kräfte der Abwehr wecken.”

[14] “Wenn […] die neue Radierfolge als ein deutsches Denkmal “für den unbekannten Soldaten” gelten soll, so ist dies nicht nur eine Entgleisung in der Wahl der Anpreisung, sondern eine Unverschämtheit, die jeden Frontkämpfer auf das Tiefste empören muss.”

[15] “Fast alle Buchhandlungen weigern sich das Buch auszustellen aus Angst, daß man “die Fenster einschlägt” […] Der deutsche Buchhandel ist eben sehr verhakenkreuzelt.”



Abels, H., 1924. Randbemerkung an Karl Nierendorf [note to Karl Nierendorf], Nachlaß Otto Dix [Otto Dix Bequest] (IC13). Nurenberg, Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Archiv für    Bildende Kunst. Nuremberg.

Bessel, R., 1993. Germany After the First World War. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Bourke, J., 1999. Dismembering the Male – Men’s Bodies, Great Britain and the War.  London: Reaktion Books, 1999.

Crockett, D., 1992. The Most Famous Painting of the "Golden Twenties"? Otto Dix and the Trench Affair. Art Journal, 51(1), Available through: Boole Library, University College Cork website www.booleweb.ucc.ie [Accessed June 2010].

Dix, O., 1920-1923. The Trench, mixed media on canvas. Available at: http://archiv.ub.uniheidelberg.de/artdok/2238/1/Schubert_Otto_Dix_das_Triptychon_Der_Krieg_1929_1932_2005.pdf [Accessed 6 May 2014]

Dix, O., 1924. The War, series of fifty etchings on paper. Available at: http://www.moma.org/collection/object.php?object_id=63259 [Accessed 6 May 2014]

Dix, O., 1929-1932. War, oil on panel. Available at: http://www.skd.museum/en/special-exhibitions/otto-dix-der-krieg-war/index.html [Accessed 6 May 2014]

Eksteins, Modris., 2000. Rites of Spring. The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age. New York: Houghton Mifflin.

Hagen, K. H., 1964. Gespräch mit Otto Dix [Interview with Otto Dix].Neues Deutschland, 15 September 1964. In Schmidt, D., 1978. Otto Dix im Selbstbildnis. Berlin: Henschelverlag Kunst und Gesellschaft, DDR.

Hofmann, M., 2003. Introduction to Jünger, E., 1961. 7th ed. Storm of Steel. London: Penguin.

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Leed, L., 2000. Fateful Memories: Industrialized War and Traumatic Neuroses. Journal of Contemporary History,35(1), Available through: Boole Library, University College Cork website www.booleweb.ucc.ie [Accessed January 2010].

Lerner, P., 2009. Hysterical Men. War, Psychiatry and the Politics of Trauma in Germany, 1890-1930. 2nd ed. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Meier-Graefe, J., 1924. Die Austellung in die Akademie [The Exhibition in the Academy]. Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, Ausgabe für Groβ-Berlin, 2 July 1924.

Mosse, G. L., 1990. Fallen Soldiers: Reshaping the Memory of the World Wars. New York: Oxford University Press.

Mosse, G. L., 2000. Shell-Shock as a Social Disease. Journal of Contemporary History,35(1), Available through: Boole Library, University College Cork website www.booleweb.ucc.ie [Accessed February 2010]

Nierendorf, K., 1924. Randbemerkung an Otto Dix [note to Otto Dix], Nachlaß Otto Dix [Otto Dix Bequest] (IC13).  Nurenberg, Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Archiv für Bildende Kunst, Nuremberg.

Rabb, T., 2011. The Artist and the Warrior. Military History through the Eyes of the Masters. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Salmony, A., 1924. Die neue Galerie des 17. bis 20. Jahrhunderts im Museum Wallraf-Richartz in Köln [The New Gallery from the 17th to the 20th century in the Wallraf-Richartzin Museum, Cologne]. Der Cicerone,16 January 1924, 8.

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Schivelbusch, W., 2003. 1st ed. The Culture of Defeat. On National Trauma, Mourning, and Recovery. Translated from German by Jefferson Chase. London: Granta.

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Timothy O'Sullivan

Nietzsche And Montaigne: Dionysian Pessimism

Timothy O’Sullivan

Department of Philosophy, UCC

Friedrich Nietzsche’s writings are replete with attacks on past philosophers—Socrates, Plato, Kant and Hegel: all these are subject to his censure. Even Arthur Schopenhauer, whose philosophy is of fundamental importance to Nietzsche and whom he greatly admired, is not immune from criticism: Schopenhauer’s philosophical pessimism is persistently mocked in Nietzsche’s later work. With this in mind, Nietzsche’s unswerving reverence for Michel de Montaigne appears all the more remarkable. Whenever Nietzsche mentions Montaigne in his writing, his comments reveal a profound admiration. Considering Nietzsche’s esteem for Montaigne, one would expect to find discussions of Montaigne’s Essays pervading his work; yet Nietzsche’s explicit engagement with Montaigne amounts to no more than a few remarks scattered throughout his corpus. As a consequence, the impact of Montaigne’s thought on Nietzsche has, hitherto, received scant scholarly attention. But the Essays exerted a profound effect on Nietzsche and the paucity of direct reference to Montaigne in his work belies a substantial implicit influence. The aim of my paper is to address this lacuna in the literature by making evident the importance of the Essays to the development of Nietzsche's philosophy. Nietzsche’s embrace of Montaigne in “Schopenhauer as Educator”, the third of his Untimely Meditations, marks a fundamental turning point in his thought and is essential to understanding his mature philosophy. I argue that Montaigne is a key inspiration for Nietzsche as he begins to conceive of a counter ideal to Schopenhauerian pessimism—what he calls Dionysian pessimism.

The significance of “Schopenhauer as Educator”

No thinker is more important to Nietzsche’s early philosophical development than Arthur Schopenhauer. At the outset of his philosophical life, Nietzsche tells us, he came to the writings of Schopenhauer in a state of “need, distress and desire”, and discovered a body of work that he felt had been written just for him (1874, p.133). Nietzsche’s first published work, The Birth of Tragedy (1872), is suffused with Schopenhauerian ideas and terminology, with extensive quotations from Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation (1844). The Birth of Tragedy is concerned, in part, with setting out a path to the reinvigoration of German culture, “a renewal and purification of the German spirit”, which Nietzsche believed to be in a state of ossification and decay (1872, p.97). This project takes centre stage in his next work, Untimely Meditations (1874), and in “Schopenhauer as Educator”, the third Meditation, Nietzsche puts forward Schopenhauer as an exemplar to his contemporaries. For Nietzsche, Schopenhauer’s example, owing to his “dignified distance” from the culture around him, points the way to new and transfiguring cultural goals, free of the forces of money-making and the demands of the state.

What is notable is that, unlike The Birth of Tragedy, “Schopenhauer as Educator” contains little or no actual reference to Schopenhauer’s philosophical ideas. In fact, from Untimely Mediations onwards, Nietzsche becomes progressively more scornful of Schopenhauer’s philosophy, even if he continues to admire Schopenhauer the man. In Twilight of the Idols (1889), one of his final works, Nietzsche describes Schopenhauer as “the last German of any consequence”, yet at the same time condemns his philosophy as a “nihilistic…devaluation of life” (p.90). In a note from 1887, Nietzsche has this to say: “Around 1876 I was terrified to see all I had desired hitherto compromised…I grasped that my instinct went in the opposite direction from Schopenhauer’s” (1901, p.521). This comment is particularly revealing, not only in suggesting how much Nietzsche feared distancing himself from the philosopher who had originally inspired him but also in showing the singular importance of Untimely Meditations, the final section of which had been published in that very year. It is evident that, for Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations, and especially “Schopenhauer as Educator”, marks a decisive turning point in his thinking and is essential to understanding the origins of Nietzsche’s mature philosophy.

In Ecce Homo (1908), his philosophical autobiography and final work, Nietzsche makes this point explicitly and emphatically: “Schopenhauer as Educator bears my innermost history, my becoming inscribed within it” (p.53). He concedes that, in retrospect, far from being beholden to Schopenhauerian ideas, this work should be more appropriately entitled “Nietzsche as Educator”, such is the “great freedom” that “blows across” it (ibid.). More crucial still, Nietzsche is adamant that the voice who speaks in “Schopenhauer as Educator” is certainly not Schopenhauer but “his opposite” (author’s emphasis). Although he never expressly rejects Schopenhauerian philosophy in “Schopenhauer as Educator”, in his middle works, as he begins to develop his own, distinctive philosophy, Nietzsche permits himself to be openly critical of key Schopenhauerian ideas. Moreover, he eventually comes to understand his philosophy not just as being in broad disagreement with Schopenhauerian pessimism but its antithesis, and dedicated to its repudiation. In Beyond Good and Evil (1886b), Nietzsche asserts that, in contrast to the resignation counseled by Schopenhauer’s “world-denying” pessimism, he is offering “the opposite ideal: the ideal of the most high-spirited, alive and world-affirming human” (p.68). The roots of this counter-ideal may be traced back to The Birth of Tragedy, and more particularly, to Nietzsche’s discussion of the Dionysian.

Schopenhauerian pessimism versus the Dionysian       

Schopenhauer’s bleak, thorough-going pessimism is exemplified in the claim that “nothing else can be stated as the aim of our existence except the knowledge that it would be better for us not to exist” (1844, p.605). This hostility towards existence is rooted in his metaphysics. Drawing on Kantian thought, Schopenhauer proposes that behind the phenomenal world represented to us by our senses, our life is propelled by an all-consuming will, which is the fundamental reality of our lives. Furthermore, this will is one of endless striving and desiring, never to be satisfied. In consequence, suffering is inescapable and ubiquitous; we are doomed to exist in a permanent state of need and deficiency. At times, in The Birth of Tragedy, by adopting unmistakably Schopenhauerian language, Nietzsche seems to endorse a kind of Schopenhauerian pessimism. But this could not be further from the truth. As Martha Nussbaum points out, “beneath its obscuring use of Schopenhauer’s language”, The Birth of Tragedy is actually portraying “an affirmation of human life” (1991, p.102). For Schopenhauer, the purpose of tragic art, and the highest end of life, is a renunciation of the will and a denial of the will to life: only by ceasing to strive can we hope to be redeemed from suffering. Tragic art, in Schopenhauer’s view, brings us face to face with the sufferings of existence in order that we may accept our fate and resign ourselves to the futility of life. Nietzsche, while accepting that it is “indisputable…the only subject-matter of Greek tragedy, in its earliest form, was the sufferings of Dionysus”, draws the opposite conclusion (1872, p.51). For him, the effect of Dionysian tragedy is the feeling that “in the ground of things, and despite all changing appearances, life is indestructibly mighty and pleasurable” (ibid. p.39).

Consequently, implicit to The Birth of Tragedy is a repudiation of Schopenhauer’s vision of existence as an arena of hopeless suffering. Also, while Schopenhauer escapes direct attack in the original edition of The Birth of Tragedy, in a revised edition, published in 1886, Nietzsche adds a new opening section entitled “Attempt at Self-Criticism”, in which he laments his previous use of a Schopenhauerian idiom and admits he lacked the “courage” to adopt a “personal” language (1886a, p.10). More significant still, he makes clear that what is at the heart of the work is a form of pessimism that is the polar opposite of Schopenhauer’s: namely, “a pessimism of strength…An intellectual preference for the hard, gruesome, malevolent and problematic aspects of existence which comes from a feeling of well-being, from overflowing health” (ibid. p.4). For Nietzsche, Greek tragedy had nothing to do with a doctrine of resignation, still less a denial of life. On the contrary, by means of tragic art, the Greeks triumphed over their suffering, since the essence of Greek tragedy is the Dionysian, an experience that has its basis in “desire and delight, in strength, in over-brimming health, in an excess of plentitude” (ibid. p.7). Nietzsche’s pessimism of strength is thus a radical transformation of Schopenhauerian pessimism, where suffering is conceived not as a discouragement to life but a stimulus. To gain insight into this re-imagined pessimism, we must look to “Schopenhauer as Educator”, because it is here not only that, as already stated, Nietzsche first begins to distance himself from Schopenhauer but is it also here that we can see the first flowering of his counter-ideal. For a remarkable feature of “Schopenhauer as Educator” is that, in a work supposedly dedicated to the example of Arthur Schopenhauer, it is another philosopher, Michel de Montaigne, whom Nietzsche offers as the thinker most worthy of respect and deserving of imitation.

“Schopenhauer as Educator” and Montaigne

There has yet to be a thorough exploration of the relationship between Nietzsche and Montaigne in the form of a book-length study. Much of the previous scholarship touching on this area has been chiefly concerned with examining the more general subject of the importance of the French philosophical tradition to Nietzsche’s thought (Williams, 1952; Donnellan, 1982). Two more recent articles are exceptions in this regard, focusing exclusively on the impact of Montaigne’s Essays (1595) on Nietzsche’s philosophical thought. Jessica Berry (2004) examines the influence of Montaigne’s Pyrrhonian scepticism on Nietzsche’s Human, All Too Human (1878). While David Molner (2010) emphasizes three other features of the Nietzsche-Montaigne relationship: firstly, how Montaigne’s emphasis on the body inspires Nietzsche’s notion of philosophy as part of physiology; secondly, stylistic affinities between the two thinkers; thirdly, the way in which Montaigne’s figures as a model for Nietzsche’s conception of the overhuman (p. 81). This paper contributes to this discussion by taking up a point made by both Williams and Donnellan, who suggest that Montaigne was a major influence on Nietzsche as he moved away from Schopenhauerian pessimism. Neither commentator, however, explains or examines this claim in any great detail. In what follows, attending closely to what Nietzsche has to say about Montaigne in “Schopenhauer as Educator”, I probe this aspect of the Nietzsche-Montaigne relationship further, to determine exactly what it is about Montaigne’s philosophy that prompts Nietzsche to raise him above Schopenhauer as a philosophical exemplar.

Generally, Nietzsche reserves unequivocal praise for pre-Socratic philosophers. Searching his corpus, one would be hard pressed to find equally complimentary statements on more recent thinkers (excepting Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, perhaps). In that context alone, Nietzsche’s comments in “Schopenhauer as Educator” regarding Montaigne merit some attention:

That such a man wrote has truly augmented the joy of living on this earth. Since getting to know this freest and mightiest of souls, I…have come to feel…as soon as I glance at him I grow a leg or a wing…If I were set the task, I could endeavor to make myself at home in the world with him (1874, p.135).

The significance of this statement, however, goes well beyond the mere fact that Nietzsche is being unusually appreciative of another thinker, particularly bearing in mind that in the preceding sentence he has asserted that he would place Montaigne above Schopenhauer “in terms of honesty”. This at a time when, as W. D. Williams points out (1952, p.18), Nietzsche was still presenting Schopenhauer as his philosophical ideal. Accordingly, its importance cannot be overstated, as floating between the lines is a complete rejection of Schopenhauer’s vision of existence. Montaigne would have found absurd Schopenhauer’s view of human life as a realm of endless suffering, as well as his claim that we would be better off not existing at all. The Montaignean and Schopenhauerian attitudes to life and philosophy stand in direct opposition to each other. After all, in Book One of the Essays, Montaigne states that “A sad and gloomy mien shows that you have mistaken” the “address” of philosophy, and, furthermore, that the “most express sign of wisdom is unruffled joy” (1595, pp.180-1). Thus, Nietzsche’s admiration of Montaigne announces a reorientation in his thinking. And the fact that he would go so far as to claim that he could make himself “at home in the world” with Montaigne suggests the most serious reservations toward Schopenhauerian pessimism.

Indeed, if one looks to his early notebooks, what becomes clear is that, even as Nietzsche wrote The Birth of Tragedy, he no longer held to Schopenhauer’s pessimistic worldview (2009, pp. 1-9). Of course, this invites the question of why he would strive to give the contrary impression in his first two published works. In response, Alexander Nehamas suggests that, as regards these early writings, Nietzsche made “a strategic decision to proceed in a way that would not alienate” his then friend, mentor and “ideal reader”, Richard Wagner (ibid. p. xxii). Wagner, a staunch Schopenhauerian, exerted a huge influence on the young writer Nietzsche—so much so, in fact, that The Birth of Tragedy is dedicated to him. Consequently, in “Schopenhauer as Educator”, we can understand Nietzsche as attempting to maintain a tension between two somewhat conflicting aims, that of honoring Schopenhauer’s life as a philosopher, while at the same time distancing himself from Schopenhauerian ideas. This he achieves by never overtly criticizing Schopenhauer and extravagantly praising Montaigne. Such a reading is reinforced when one considers Nietzsche’s suggestion that, along with honesty, Schopenhauer has a second quality in common with Montaigne: “cheerfulness” (1874, p.135). There is a deep irony to this claim. Schopenhauer, the famously morose figure, who insists that “this world itself is the worst of all possible worlds” (1844, p. 583), versus Montaigne, the indefatigably buoyant thinker, who claims “the soul that houses philosophy should have a spritely demeanor and happy welcoming face” (1595, p.180). Nietzsche’s embrace of Montaigne, his talk of the “joy of living” and “cheerfulness”, indicates a tacit abandonment of the main features of Schopenhauerian pessimism and prefigures the more direct repudiation expressed in “An Attempt at Self-Criticism” (1886b), by which time Nietzsche had long since broken free from Wagner’s intellectual influence.

This is not to argue that Montaigne was the root cause of Nietzsche’s turn away from Schopenhauer. Rather, it is to suggest that Nietzsche’s reading of the Essays gave impetus to a revolution in his thinking that was under way before he came to write “Schopenhauer as Educator”, a revolution he was well aware of, but chose not to explicitly document. In Montaigne, Nietzsche found a new philosophical exemplar, whose celebration of human existence offered encouragement to the Dionysian attitude to life he had espoused in The Birth of Tragedy. As other commentators have noted (Williams, 1952; Molner, 2010), based on his comments in “Schopenhauer as Educator”, one can with some justification see the Montaignean worldview as providing Nietzsche with an antidote to, and defense against, the world-denying aspects of Schopenhauer’s pessimism. Furthermore, his praise of Montaigne adds substance to the repeated claim of Ecce Homo that in “Schopenhauer as Educator” it is really a voice antagonistic to Schopenhauer which is given a chance to speak. But much more than this, what we see at work here truly is “Nietzsche as Educator”: he is filling out and developing his own counter ideal to Schopenhauerian pessimism, for what grounds Montaigne’s joy in living and Nietzsche’s pessimism of strength is the same thing: an affirmation of becoming.

Overcoming of the concept of being

A Heraclitean view of the world pervades the Essays. Montaigne is at pains to emphasize “the uncertainty and mutability of human affairs which lightly shift from state to state, each one different from the other” (1595, p.85). Like Heraclitus, Montaigne opposes the stability of being to the perpetual flux of becoming. A remarkable passage near the end of “An apology for Raymond Sebond” is nothing short of a hymn to becoming and a powerful rejection of the concept of being. It is worth quoting from it:

There is no permanent existence either in our being or in that of objects…all mortal things are flowing and rolling ceaselessly…we have no communication with being…all things are subject to pass from change to change…all things are in a never-ending inconstancy, change and flux (ibid. pp.682-3).

And if this was not enough, Montaigne repudiates the notion of being again in Book Three: “Constancy itself is nothing but a rocking to and fro…I am not portraying being but becoming” (ibid. p.907). Thus, nothing could be plainer than that the Essays are a celebration of transience and becoming. Indeed, Montaigne mocks Heraclitus for his inability to accept and affirm the consequences of his philosophy. Heraclitus, Montaigne tells us, owing to the terrifying uncertainty at the heart of existence “wore an expression which was always sad, his eyes full of tears” (ibid. p.339). But Montaigne, in contrast, favors the attitude of Democritus, who “never went out without a mocking and laughing look on his face” (ibid.). For Montaigne, in the face of the inevitable difficulties and sufferings of human existence, the most appropriate response to our predicament “is to be…able to laugh” (ibid. p.340). It is no surprise, then, that although having spent a great deal of the Essays highlighting the inevitability of change and the pain and uncertainty of human life, in “On experience”, his final essay, Montaigne issues no denial of worldly existence. His final remarks are of a piece with the tenor of the rest of his writing: “As for me, I love life” (ibid. p.1264).

Nietzsche claims that the Schopenhauerian view that “this world…is an error…this world of ours ought not to exist” stems from a “disbelief in becoming, mistrust of becoming, the low valuation of all that becomes” (1901, p.317). Nietzsche acknowledges that a world of becoming—of continual change, decay and death—is one of immense pain and suffering. In this sense, he accepts the premise of Schopenhauer’s pessimism: suffering is inescapable; pain is intrinsic to a world of flux and disorder. But he fundamentally rejects Schopenhauer’s conclusion: “I do not account evil and the painful character of existence as a reproach to it” (1901, p.206). In Twilight of the Idols (1889), he comments on the traditional “hatred” of philosophers toward the very “idea of becoming”, and ridicules their tendency to see “Death, change” and “age” as “objections”, “refutations even” (p.45). The form of pessimism that Nietzsche advocates is one that accepts the ubiquity of human suffering in a world of becoming yet possesses the strength to affirm and celebrate existence nonetheless. For Nietzsche, Schopenhauer was simply not psychologically “strong enough” to say “Yes” to life (1901, p.525). Throughout his writing, Nietzsche associates an unwillingness to affirm becoming with a kind of constitutional weakness, with “sickliness”. In his late works, he employs the term “decadent” to refer to those who suffer from life, who are hostile to becoming, and therefore defame earthly existence. In that context, the basis for Nietzsche’s characterization of Montaigne as the “mightiest of souls” becomes readily intelligible: Montaigne has the fortitude to affirm what Schopenhauer—and most other philosophers in the Western philosophical tradition—could only reproach and deny: Montaigne delighted in, and did not fear, a world of becoming. Montaigne eschews any notion of transcendence to a world of being. On the contrary, he revels in becoming and all that sensory experience has to offer: “I want to arrest the swiftness of its passing by the swiftness of my capture, compensating for the speed with which it drains away by the intensity of my enjoyment” (1595, p.1263).

It is thus reasonable to propose that Nietzsche’s subscription to the Montaignean vision acted as a spur to the development of his conception of a pessimism of strength—or what he would also call “Dionysian pessimism” (1882, p.236). In “An Attempt at Self-Criticism”, Nietzsche makes clear that he believes tragedy to have grown out of a “severe will to pessimism” (in the Nietzschean sense) (1886a, p.7). Indeed, in the revised edition to The Birth of Tragedy, he changes the full title from The Birth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music to The Birth of Tragedy, Or: Hellenism and Pessimism, so the work would have “a more unambiguous title” (1908, p.45). In Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche describes the Dionysian as the “Affirmation of life even in its strangest and sternest problems”, where one comes to “realize in oneself the eternal joy of becoming” (1889, p.121, author’s emphasis). Therefore, “Schopenhauer as Educator”, in offering as an exemplar a philosopher who embraces becoming, can be understood as the continuation of a central aim of The Birth of Tragedy, what Nietzsche calls his “first revaluation of values” (ibid.): the overcoming of the concept of being and a near deification of becoming. In The Birth of Tragedy, the Dionysian is a celebration of becoming, an experience in which one glories in “incessantly changing appearances” (1872, p.80). The Dionysian, however, also forces one “to gaze into the terrors of individual existence”, for through Dionysian wisdom we come “to recognize that everything which comes into being must be prepared for painful destruction” (ibid.).

Becoming and laughter

Jean Starobinski (1982) makes a crucial point concerning Montaigne’s thoughts on Democritus. It is not simply that Democritus favors an attitude of laughter towards life to one of tears; more precisely, it is that “Democritus laughs at the world’s folly, but it grieves him just the same” (p.5, emphasis added). A principal theme of the Essays is the natural disorder and instability of the world—as manifested in Montaigne’s extensive discussions of the brutal civil wars he is living through—and the inevitability of pain and suffering, psychological and physical. Montaigne writes movingly of his grief at the loss of his great friend Etienne de La Boétie: “There is no action or thought in which I do not miss him” (1595, p.218). And the Essays catalogue, in detail, the tormenting pain of his body as he experiences the ravages of old-age: “bodily sufferings…I feel most acutely…I am wrestling with the worst of all illnesses, the most unpredictable…the most fatal and the most incurable” (ibid. p.860). For Montaigne, perhaps the key statement of the Essays is his recognition that “Everywhere death intermingles and merges with our life”—his articulation of a kind of Dionysian wisdom (ibid. p.1251). Thus, Montaigne’s advocacy of laughter is not based on a denial of suffering or a naively optimistic vision of human existence. On the contrary, Montaigne, like Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, acknowledges suffering as the central feature of our lives. But, unlike Schopenhauer and those other thinkers who see “Death”, “change” and “age” as “objections”, Montaigne wins Nietzsche’s admiration for his Democritean attitude, the capacity to affirm, time and again—notwithstanding its suffering—the joy and wonder of life.

It is striking that in a note from 1885, where Nietzsche explains how he guarded against the threat of Schopenhauerian pessimism, he also highlights the unique capacity of humans for laughter. Nietzsche goes much further than Montaigne, however, in offering this speculation: “Perhaps I know best why man alone laughs: he alone suffers so deeply that he had to invent laughter” (1901, p.56, author’s emphasis). Nevertheless, in either case, laughter is taken to be the most natural and appropriate response to the uncertainty, ambiguity and contingency of the human condition—and everything else that follows from existence in a world of becoming. Nietzsche proposes that, in contrast to those who harbor only “contempt…for all that perishes, changes, varies”, one should extract happiness from “change and destruction” (ibid. pp.317-19).  Likewise, Montaigne, who holds that “It is normal to experience change and decay” (1595, p.101), rebukes the individual of “a morose and gloomy mind”, who clings to life’s “misfortunes and feeds on them” (ibid. p.953). More conspicuous still, the idea of laughter as a response to becoming is at the core of Zarathustra’s teaching to humanity in Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1885). Significantly, in the final section of “An Attempt at Self-Criticism”, emphasizing the centrality of laughter to the existential attitude of Dionysian pessimism, Nietzsche quotes a passage from Zarathustra that expounds on the sacredness of laughter. Dubbing Zarathustra a “Dionysian fiend”, Nietzsche lets him speak: “Laughter I have pronounced holy; you superior humans, learn from me—to laugh” (1885, p.259) Montaigne would have found such a teaching deeply appealing, since, for him, the supreme “task” of philosophy is “to make the tempests of the soul serene and to teach hunger and fever how to laugh” (1595, p.181). Thus, it is apparent that Nietzsche’s tribute to Montaigne in “Schopenhauer as Educator” does not constitute, like some passages of The Birth of Tragedy, idle remarks “full of the spirit of youth” (1886a, p.5), but points directly forward to vital aspects of his mature philosophy.

The innocence of becoming

For Nietzsche, Dionysian pessimism represents a progression from and deepening of Schopenhauerian pessimism. As we have seen, Schopenhauer’s pessimism is not some kind of hedonistic calculus, where the pains of human life are determined to outweigh the pleasures. Rather, Schopenhauer’s pessimism is a “moralistic” pessimism, a condemnation of existence as a whole: life has no value, we would be better off not existing, since suffering is inescapable. According to this kind of pessimism, the world, based on a particular understanding of what is good or bad, just or unjust, must be judged negatively, because human existence fails to meet a certain standard of happiness, a standard that any worthwhile existence should attain. Again, Nietzsche’s repudiation of this kind of moralistic interpretation of existence has its beginnings in The Birth of Tragedy, but, as before, it is in “Schopenhauer as Educator” where he first addresses the moralistic basis of Schopenhauer’s pessimism directly and issues a mild yet clear rebuke, suggesting that Schopenhauer had envisioned “a dreadful scene in a supraterrestrial court in which all life, even the highest and most perfect, had been weighed and found wanting” (1874, p.182). In the Nietzschean conception, what really is at work behind Schopenhauer’s pessimism is an insidious “revenge” against existence. In The Gay Science (1882), he claims that Schopenhauer’s pessimism represents “an impoverishment of life”, the reaction of a suffering individual who takes “revenge on all things by…branding his image on them, the image of his torture” (p.236). By the time we get to Twilight of the Idols (1889), Nietzsche is offering a more mordant analysis: “Instead of saying simply I am no longer worth anything, the moral lie in the mouth of the decadent says: Nothing is worth anything—life is not worth anything” (p.98).

Dionysian pessimism is the antithesis of this “moral lie”, eschewing any judgment on life as a whole—the Dionysian is a celebration of life, even at its most terrible—and is indicative of “a superabundance of life” (1882, p.234, author’s emphasis). In “An Attempt at Self-Criticism”, Nietzsche claims that The Birth of Tragedy “betrays a spirit which will defend itself…whatever the danger, against the moral interpretation and significance of existence” (1886a, p.8). For, the disorder and suffering of a world of becoming can only be impugned in the context of an imagined world of being, but, if one truly affirms becoming, “one must admit nothing that has being…the better world, the true world…the thing-in-itself”(1901, p.377). There is simply no standard against which the world can be judged and found wanting, and the contradiction that Schopenhauer sees at the heart of existence, our doomed, Tantalus-like fate to remain eternally unsatisfied, amounts for Nietzsche to nothing more than the moral projection of his own suffering onto the world at large. Nietzsche’s Dionysian pessimism deepens Schopenhauer’s pessimism, in the sense that it represents the “disintegration of the last consolation”: the consolation that the circumstances of the human predicament are somehow wrong and indecent and that one can take revenge against life, win a kind of victory, through a rejection and denial of the will to life (ibid. p.224). Thus the aim of Nietzsche’s Dionysian pessimism is to “restore innocence to becoming”, to no longer view existence as an error, or punishment, and therefore worthy of condemnation. From the standpoint of a Dionysian pessimist, existence is blameless, “one cannot judge, measure, compare the whole, to say nothing of denying it” (ibid. p.402).

Nietzsche’s thoughts on the “innocence of becoming” and the absurdity of holding existence in disdain are in conspicuous agreement with the Essays. Montaigne insists that “the opinion which holds our life in contempt is a ridiculous one” (1595, p.397). Moreover, like Nietzsche, he associates such an opinion with a contemptible form of suffering: “it is a sickness peculiar to Man to hate and despise himself” (ibid.). For Montaigne, what prompts a damning judgment on our existence is a denial of who and what we are, a denial of becoming. Humanity’s peculiar sickness thus represents a longing for stability, order, constancy, for being, a “vain desire which makes us want to be other than we are” (ibid.). Montaigne also questions the coherence of the notion of a value standard by which to judge human life as a whole, mockingly suggesting that only another “creature” that enjoys an existence “richer and nobler than we do” could possibly be in a position to criticize (ibid.). He thus abstains from pronouncing a judgment on existence, either positive or negative, recognizing that the question of the value of existence has no answer; the value of life cannot be evaluated. Montaigne’s response to the question of the value of existence is this: “When I dance, I dance, when I sleep, I sleep” (ibid. p.1258). And in the face of becoming and the decay that time has wrought on his mind and body, Montaigne finds life to be “of both great account and delightful” (ibid. 1263). These are not the words of a decadent, understood in the Nietzschean sense. Here is manifest the “superabundance of life” that is the essence of Nietzsche’s Dionysian pessimism. Thus, for David Molner, what Nietzsche most admired about Montaigne and his “smiling embrace of life” (2010, p.84) was that an intimacy with suffering led him “to a love of life rather than a morality or ressentiment” (2010, p.86). Montaigne rejects the “moral lie” of the decadent and, unlike Schopenhauer, refuses to translate morality into reality. Both Montaigne and Nietzsche seek to overcome and move beyond the question of the value of existence: the only credible response they see is to validate and honor life.


Montaigne’s joyful philosophy of becoming offered Nietzsche an escape from Schopenhauer’s world-denying pessimism. As an exemplar, he confirmed for Nietzsche the possibility of a different kind of pessimism, a Dionysian pessimism, the affirmation and celebration of life despite its suffering. In this way, Nietzsche’s reading of the Essays encouraged and supported his move away from a condemnatory vision of the world. And Nietzsche’s unqualified praise of Montaigne in “Schopenhauer as Educator”, the claim that he could make himself “at home in the world” with Montaigne, signals an acute appreciation of this fact. Moreover, Montaigne’s “might”, “honesty” and “cheerfulness” revealed to Nietzsche a path to the development of his own ideal “of the most high-spirited, alive and world-affirming” individual (1886b, p.68). In Ecce Homo, Nietzsche’s states that when he abandoned his allegiance to Schopenhauer and ceased to be a pessimist in the Schopenhauerian sense he turned his “will to health, to life”, into his philosophy (1908, p. 9). Furthermore, he claims that his “instinct for self-recovery forbade” him “a philosophy of poverty and discouragement” (ibid.). We can thus understand the Essays as providing the necessary treatment—in the form of a philosophy that promotes a love for and delight in life—for the “long period of illness” he endured as a disciple of Schopenhauerian pessimism. 



Berry, J., 2004, The Pyrrhonian Revival in Montaigne and Nietzsche, Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 65(3), pp.497-514.

Donnellan, B., 1982, Nietzsche and the French Moralists. Bonn: Bouvier

Molner, D., 2010, The influence of Montaigne on Nietzsche: A raison d’etre in the sun, Nietzsche-Studien, Vol. 22, pp.80-93.

Montaigne, M., 1595, The Complete Essays. Translated by M. A. Screech, 1993. London: Penguin Books.

Nietzsche, F., 1872, The Birth of Tragedy. Translated by R. Speirs, 1999. Cambridge U. K.: Cambridge University Press.

Nietzsche, F., 1874, Schopenhauer as Educator, Untimely Meditations. Translated by R. J. Hollingdale, 1997. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Nietzsche, F., 1882, The Gay Science. Translated by J. Nauckhoff, 2001. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Nietzsche, F., 1885, Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Translated by G. Parkes, 2005. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Nietzsche, F., 1886a, Attempt at Self-Criticism, The Birth of Tragedy. Translated by R. Speirs, 1999. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Nietzsche, F., 1886b, Beyond Good and Evil. Translated by W. Kaufmann, 1966. New York: Vintage Books.

Nietzsche, F., 1889, Twilight of the Idols. Translated by R. J. Hollingdale, 1990. London: Penguin Books.

Nietzsche, F., 1901, Will to Power. Translated by W. Kaufmann, 1967. New York: Vintage Books.

Nietzsche, F., 1908, Ecce Homo. Translated by D. Large, 2009. New York: Oxford University Press.

Nietzsche, F., 2009, Writings from the Early Notebooks. Translated by L. Löb. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Nussbaum, M. C., 1991. The Transfigurations of Intoxication: Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, and Dionysus, Arion, Third Series, Vol. 1(2), pp.75-111.

Schopenhauer, A., 1844, The World as Will and Representation (Vol. II). Translated by E. F. J. Payne, 1966. New York: Dover Publications.

Starobinski, J., 1982, Montaigne in Motion. Translated by A. Goldhammer, 1985. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Williams, W. D., 1952, Nietzsche and the French. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.


Marie-Luise Theuerkauf

Essay—Dragon Slayers and Lion Friends: Intertextual Considerations in Tochmarc Emire

Marie-Luise Theuerkauf

Department of Early and Medieval Irish/Department of French, UCC

There was a tremendous response to the Graduate School of the CACSSS’ inaugural PhD Essay Prize.  The essays were reviewed by all the members of the Graduate School Executive Board. The process highlighted the excellent, engaged research being undertaken by postgraduate researchers across the disciplines in the college.  The finalists were further double-blind peer reviewed by national and international experts in the respective fields.  It is with great pleasure that we now publish the inaugural recipient’s essay in this edition of Aigne, the postgraduate journal of the College of Arts, Celtic Studies and Social Sciences, at University College Cork.

Orla Murphy, Graduate School Executive Committee

Tochmarc Emire ‘The Wooing of Emer’ (hereafter TE) tells the story of how the early Irish hero Cú Chulainn receives his training in arms and woos a wife, and is held to be an addendum to his heroic biography (Thurneysen 1921, pp.377-8).[1] The life cycle of Cú Chulainn represents the binding ingredient of the Ulster Cycle; a collection of tales set in the northern Irish province of Ulster around the court of King Conchobur in Emain Macha. This mise-en-scène is in some ways comparable to the cycle of stories around King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Although Arthur is the keystone of the Arthurian Cycle, the valorous deeds of his knights are actually recounted. Similarly, Cú Chulainn absorbs most of the glory in the Ulster Cycle tales.[2]

In summing up his textual history of TE, Thurneysen concluded: “Es gibt wohl keine andere irische Sage, in die so viel fremde Sagenbestandteile (...) aufgenommen sind.”[3]TE incorporates a plethora of elements from i) much older material,[4] ii) contemporary material (other Ulster Cycle tales) and iii) elements which seem completely alien and arbitrary. Some of these features are common in modern folktales and, to some extent, in medieval romances. And it is these aspects in particular which will be the focus of this investigation.

The hero’s quest for Emer, daughter of Forgall, in many ways follows features commonly found in a wooing story: a youthful hero—shunned by his prospective in-laws—must overcome a series of difficult tasks in order to obtain his bride. Cú Chulainn overcomes the traps set for him by Forgall and ultimately brings about the latter’s demise. This basic structure forms the skeleton of TE. Forgall’s request to Cú Chulainn requires him to gain training in arms with the fierce warrior woman Scáthach,[5] whose fortress is in Alba.[6] He therefore sets out from Ireland with a small group of the finest warriors which the kingdom of Ulster has brought forth: Conall Cernach (‘the Triumphant’), Loegaire Búadach (‘the Victorious’) and Conchobur mac Nessa, the king of Ulster himself.[7] His trip is impeded however, by a series of curious events, which strip him of his companions and test his strength and valour. Shortly after the group’s departure from Ireland, a strange vision appears before the warriors, showing them their home of Emain Macha. Conall, Loegaire and Conchobur are unable to go past it and are thus separated from Cú Chulainn. He continues his journey alone, since he has sworn not to return until he reaches Scáthach or finds death. At this point in the narrative Cú Chulainn comes upon a terrible beast similar to a lion which lets him ride on its back for four days. He meets a maiden who tells him that she had studied eloquence and sweet speech with him under a certain Ulbecán the Saxon. Another youth gives Cú Chulainn a wheel and an apple, artefacts which will help him to cross the Plain of Ill-Luck. After crossing the plain, Cú Chulainn comes to a glen filled with monsters (sent by Forgall) through which winds only one narrow path. Despite all of Forgall’s efforts to let him perish on his journey, the hero reaches the land of Scáthach. Once his training is completed and on his return to Ireland to marry Emer, Cú Chulainn spends Samain night[8] on the Hebrides and rescues a local princess from three monstrous attackers known as Fomori. When he is offered the princess’s hand in marriage, Cú Chulainn refuses and instead asks her to come see him in Ireland in a year’s time.

Before we can assess these various elements in turn, it will be important to address the ‘compositional’ character of TE and say something about its textual history. Tochmarc Emire is preserved in six manuscripts. These six witnesses are divided into two recensions (or versions) of the story: a shorter one and a longer one. The general consensus supports the view that the short recension (only preserved in one manuscript) is also the older one.[9] Of the remaining five manuscripts, only three are complete. Judging from the length of the lacunae in the fragmentary witnesses, we can however assume that they, too originally preserved the same version of the story (Toner, 1998). The division into the two recensions has been made partly on linguistic and partly on structural grounds: scholars have variously distinguished an Old Irish and a Middle Irish recension, or a pre-Viking and a post-Viking one (Toner, 1998 and Meyer, 1890 respectively). The Middle Irish recension has been expanded through the insertion of a certain number of additional episodes and descriptions. Among these is the incident which takes place on the Hebrides in the course of Cú Chulainn’s return to Ireland. Both recensions include the episodes of Cú Chulainn’s first journey to Alba: the lion, the youths, the wheel and the apple, and the perilous glen.

It seems curious that the sequence of extraneous elements is attached to those parts of the plot, in which Cú Chulainn is travelling to and from Ireland. In these sections, he behaves in a manner incompatible with the heroic expectations and conventions which characterise him in other sagas: he receives (and accepts) advice from others; he feels lost, abandoned and even afraid; and he refuses to accept the young girl he rescues from the Fomori. This behaviour stands in contradiction to what other Cú Chulainn tales tell us. As a semi-divine figure (his father, Lug, belonged to the Tuatha Dé Danann ‘Tribes of the Goddess Danu’), Cú Chulainn has not only inherited Herculean strength, but also wisdom and foresight. In heroic contests he is always victorious. He defends the entire province of Ulster single-handedly against the Connacht army in the Táin Bó Cuailgne, the epic account of the great Cattle Raid of Cooley. He is further known to ignore advice (especially coming from women)[10] and to never miss an opportunity to sleep with a woman.[11] How is this incongruity to be explained?

John Carey (1989) has suggested that what we have here is in fact a conflation of two narrative settings (in- and outside Ireland) where each setting carries its own narrative conventions; therefore “when Cú Chulainn leaves Ireland, he leaves his cycle also, and enters a world of wonder tale and romance”(Carey, 1989, p. 33). The omniscient and all-powerful martial hero thus receives treatment no different from what would be accorded to a romantic or folktale protagonist. The change occurs at the precise moment when Cú Chulainn loses his companions, as they, too, form an inherent part of the Ulster Cycle. We are told that Cú Chulainn turned away from his companions i conar n-inderb ‘on an unknown road’ (van Hamel, §62). As he loses his way, he lingers until a terrible lion-like beast approaches him (bíastai úathmair máir amal leoman). The lion at first stares at Cú Chulainn (baí oca fethem), then offers its side (dobered a sliss friss béos) and lets him climb on its back (co mboí fora muin) and carries him for four days, after which it takes leave of him (lotir cethri láa fon chruth sin). [12]  

It goes without saying that lions are not native to Ireland and that any knowledge of them came to Ireland only via the transmission of foreign sources.[13] Incidentally, Cú Chulainn only meets his lion after he has left Ireland. References to these animals are, however, not unusual for early Irish literature. One of the earliest attested instances of the use of the word léo (borrowed from Latin leo ‘lion’) in Irish stems from early Leinster dynastic poetry in which we find léo being used to describe the strength of warriors.[14] There is however not a single tale in which a lion takes an active part in the plot. The exception in TE then, can best be explained in terms of shared elements with other vernacular literatures.

It has not escaped the notice of scholars that the role which the lion assumes in the tale,reminds us of the ‘grateful lion’ as we find it in Chrétien de Troyes’s romance Yvain ou le chevalier au lion (ed. Roques, 1982). Yvain leaves his newly wedded wife Laudine to embark on a series of heroic exploits with Gauvain, promising to return after a year has elapsed. He misses his deadline and is cast out by Laudine who swears that she will never forgive him as he has betrayed her trust and has put chivalric before conjugal duties. Alone and desolate, Yvain becomes an outcast of society: he loses his status, his clothes and even his mind and lives in the woods like a wild animal. One day, he comes upon a lion and a serpent fighting, the lion being entwined with the serpent, which is about to kill it:

                                  Si s’adreça lors vers le cri

                                  cele part ou il l’ot oï,

                                  et, quant il parvint cele part,

                                  vit un lÿon, en un essart,

                                  et un serpant qui le tenoit

                                  par la coe, et si li ardoit

                                  trestoz les rains de flame ardant.


                                  He followed the shout thus

                                  to the part where he heard it,

                                  and, when he arrived in that part,

                                  he saw a lion, in a clearing,

                                  and a serpent which had seized it

                                  by the tail, and burnt his

                                  hips with a blazing flame.

Yvain decides to save the nobler of the two beasts and slays the serpent. The lion, in gratitude, becomes tame and follows Yvain wherever he goes.

                                    Et li lÿons lez lui costoie

                                    que ja mes ne s’an partira,

                                    toz jours mes avoec lui ira

                                    que servir et garder le vialt.


                                    And the lion stayed close by his side

                                    that never he would separate from it,

                                    it would always go with him,

                                    so that it wanted to serve and protect him.


He plays a decisive role in a series of heroic combats which Yvain undertakes to regain his status as a knight (i.e. to become the chevalier au lion).

The resemblance to TE was first noticed both by T. M. Chotzen (1902) and Arthur Brown (1905). Brown states that the lion in TE serves as the hero’s guide to the Otherworld whereas his role in Yvain is that of the hero’s side-kick who comes to aid him at crucial moments in battle. He suggests that the lion’s role can best be interpreted when seeing Yvain as a “partly rationalised Otherworld Journey story” in which the animal was “in origin a guide and helper for the marvellous road” (Brown, 1905, p. 692). He further suggests that the lion carrying Cú Chulainn on his back might be “a primitive form of the incident.”[15] Unfortunately, he bases his argument solely on the fact that TE is anterior to Chrétien’s romances.[16] Rudolph Zenker (1921) shares a similar view, and sees Cú Chulainn’s journey as a “descente au séjour des morts” (a descent into the realm of the dead) and the lion as “un messager de l’empire des morts” (a messenger of the realm of the dead).[17] Chotzen on the other hand cautions against mistaking the ‘lion conducteur’ (guiding lion) – the role he assumes in TE – for the ‘lion combattant’ (fighting lion), in Yvain.[18]

It is precisely the function of the lion as an acting participant in the story which should point to the origin of the motif — namely that of the thankful animal — which stems from Classical sources. In Yvain, the protagonist rescues the lion from a serpent, saving the beast’s life. The lion therefore follows him in gratitude. In Book V of Aulus Gellius’s Noctes Atticae ‘Attic Nights’ is recounted the wondrous story of a young Roman slave named Androcles (or Androclus here) who, when hiding in a cave from his violent master, has a fateful encounter with a lion: 

Neque multo post ad eandem specum venit hic leo, debili uno et cruento pede, gemitus edens et murmura, dolorem cruciatumque vulneris commiserantia. Atque illic primo quidem conspectu advenientis leonis territum sibi et pavefactum animum dixit. “Sed postquam introgressus,” inquit, “leo, uti re ipsa apparuit, in habitaculum illud suum, videt me procul delitescentem, mitis et mansues accessit et sublatum pedem ostendere mihi et porrigere quasi opis petendae gratia visus est. Ibi,” inquit, “ego stirpem ingentem, vestigio pedis eius haerentem, revelli conceptamque saniem vulnere intimo expressi accuratiusque sine magna iam formidine siccavi penitus atque detersi cruorem. Illa tunc mea opera et medella levatus, pede in manibus meis posito, recubuit et quievit atque ex eo die triennium totum ego et leo in eadem specu eodemque et victu viximus. Nam, quas venabatur feras, membra opimiora ad specum mihi subgerebat, quae ego, ignis copiam non habens, meridiano sole torrens edebam.

Noct. At. V.xiv.19-26

“... Not long afterwards this lion came to the same cave with one paw lame and bleeding, making known by groans and moans the torturing pain of his wound.” And then, at the first sight of the approaching lion, Androclus said that his mind was overwhelmed with fear and dread. “But when the lion,” said he, “had entered what was evidently his own lair, and saw me cowering at a distance, he approached me mildly and gently, and lifting up his foot, was evidently showing it to me and holding it out as if to ask for help. Then,” said he, “I drew out a huge splinter that was embedded in the sole of the foot, squeezed out the pus that had formed in the interior of the wound, wiped away the blood, and dried it thoroughly, being now free from any great feeling of fear. Then, relieved by that attention and treatment of mine, the lion, putting his paw in my hand, lay down and went to sleep, and for three whole years from that day the lion and I lived in the same cave, and on the same food as well. For he used to bring for me to the cave the choicest parts of the game which he took in hunting, which I, having no means of making a fire, dried in the noonday sun and ate.[19]

When, years later, the slave and the lion are captured and forced to face each other in the arena, the lion recognises his former companion and, instead of devouring the man, greets him joyfully and wags his tail like a dog (tum caudam more atque ritu adulantium canum clementer et blande movet).[20] Parallels to the Yvain story are readily noted: the lion is saved by the hero and shows his gratitude by the expression of humility. Both lions further provide their companions with food and are also the key to the protagonists’ change in status: Androcles becomes a free man and enjoys popularity; Yvain becomes the ‘Chevalier au lion’. Similarly, Cú Chulainn regains his courage and finds the road to Scáthach.

The motif of the human being spared by a lion is also Biblical: In Daniel 6: 1-21, the protagonist is thrown into the lions’ den after he is found guilty of praying to God whereas this practice was forbidden by decree of the king. The king, however, regretting his decision, hopes that Daniel’s god will save him. As this comes to pass, Daniel relates that an angel descended from heaven to appease the lions whereafter they would not harm him. The cross-over to the Androcles story only concerns the episode of the fight in the arena/lions’ den where both Androcles and Daniel are spared by the beasts. The Biblical story differs from the tale in that the lions spare the man through the power of God and not through friendship or gratitude.     

This spiritual interpretation has gained popularity in religious texts in general. In Ireland, we find this motif to be recurrent in Irish saints’ lives. Vita Sancti Albei Episcopi in Imlech for instance, recounts the life of the St Ailbe of Emly (Co. Tipperary). Ailbe’s speciality (in which he surpasses Christ himself) consists in reviving the dead and restoring them to their original constitution (i.e. healthy and unharmed). Thus we are told that a camp of Romans is assailed by a lion, which kills a man and is about to devour him. But Ailbe, entering the scene, orders the lion not to eat the man and statimque leo obediens virum mortuum ex ore suo...proiecit, et ad sanctum Albeum velociter...cucurrit et...pedes sancti Albei humiliter lambere cepit (“at once the lion obeyed and spat the dead man out of its mouth, and ran quickly to saint Ailbe and he humbly began to lick the feet of the saint”) (Heist, 1965, p. 120).[21]

We cannot be certain whether the story of Androcles and the Lion was known in Ireland at the time the earliest saga material was committed to vellum.[22] Daniel’s story however, was most certainly known.[23] The ties between the Biblical story and the saints’ lives are therefore evident but the connection to TE seems to be of a different nature. Whereas the lions serve as literary devices to illustrate a saint’s power in the hagiographical material, Cú Chulainn exerts no power over his lion. A connection between TE and Irish saints’ lives seems therefore too tenuous. Furthermore, the element of gratitude, which link Yvain and Androcles, is missing in TE. Cú Chulainn’s lion rather seems to belong to the group of ‘helpful animals’[24] which we find in modern folktales.[25] The notion of ‘helpfulness’ then received literary exaggeration by Chrétien as the lion plays a decisive role in Yvain’s personal and chivalric development. What links Cú Chulainn’s encounter and Yvain’s lion is the function of the lion as a transitional device. Both heroes are stranded in the wilderness with no purpose (Yvain) or no orientation (Cú Chulainn) having just lost something dear to them. It would therefore be possible that the element in TE, although the beast itself is clearly non-Irish, was derived from circulating folktale elements,[26] the vestiges of which survived in TE, but of which no actual witness was ever recorded. We could suppose the same for Chrétien’s sources.[27]

The following elements in TE are perhaps more straightforward than the lion episode. After Cú Chulainn and the lion have separated, he comes upon a large house in a glen with a maiden waiting in it. She tells him that they have both studied eloquence together with a certain Ulbécan the Saxon. This is surprising. With regard to the narrative chronology of Cú Chulainn’s life, the hero has never before left Ireland until the events recounted in TE. Ulbécan the Saxon is a further oddity here. Cú Chulainn should have no need to venture abroad to receive rhetorical training and especially not in the language of the Saxons. William Sayers (1988) has interpreted the name of Ulbecán as a hypocoristic form of the Irish word for ‘wolf’ and has drawn comparisions to Wulfstan, one of the disciples of bishop Æthelwold of Winchester. Wulfstan was most famous for his musical treatise De harmonia tonorum, which, as Sayers suggests “could have passed to an Irish monastic establishment as a gift or with the voyage of a single monk”.[28] It seems however doubtful that a figure such as Wulfstan, whose work, as Sayers admits, was not necessarily known in Ireland, made his way into an Early Irish saga where his name received an Irish disguise.[29] The anomalous figure of Ulbecán the Saxon must therefore remain a riddle at present.

Cú Chulainn’s next challenge consists in crossing mmag ndobail “The Plain of Ill-Luck’, a task in which he is helped by the youth Eochu Bairche. The youth tells him that the plain has two sides, the first half of which makes a man’s feet stick to it, whereas the second half lifts him on top of the grass blades.[30] He gives Cú Chulainn two items, a wheel and an apple, which set his pace across the plain. This is a curious motif which has no direct parallel in Irish literature. The only source which comes close to it, is found in a folktale collected by Jeremiah Curtin, entitled “The Son of the King of Erin” (Curtin, 1889). In the tale, the king’s son loses his head to a giant and must seek him out in his castle. On his way, he is helped by three old women who each give him a ball of thread. The young man is to throw the ball in front of him which will then unwind, pointing out the road. At the end of the day, the accumulated thread will have formed another ball. This motif is found in Stith Thompson’s international Motif-Index of Folk-Literature (Thompson, 1960) as D1313 Magic object points out road, which the redactor of TE has adapted to suit the needs of the narrative.[31]

A further folktale analogue from outside Ireland, the story listed as 127 in Grimm’s collection of fairy tales (Grimm 1992), tells the story of how a princess frees her prospective husband from an iron stove. When she asks the prince to allow her to take leave of her father, he agrees under the condition that she speak no more than three words. She infringes upon this prohibition and must now seek out the prince’s castle herself, since the iron stove has disappeared. In order to find the castle, she needs to get past a high glass mountain, three piercing swords and a lake. She is given three magic objects by an old toad which instructs her how to use them: three needles she must put under her feet, in order not to fall on the slippery surface of the mountain; a plough-wheel she must sit on, to roll over the piercing swords; and three nuts containing three dresses she must wear to access the prince’s castle. She reaches the castle and, dressed in her royal attire, is allowed to sleep in the prince’s bed for three nights. On the third night, the prince hears her weeping and learns that she is the one who freed him from the iron stove. The couple marries the same night, crosses the three obstacles and finally arrives at the old toad’s house. When they enter, the house turns into a castle and its inhabitants into a royal household.

There is no obvious connection between the Iron House and TE, which are temporally and geographically far apart. It looks, though, as if the motif of the magic object can be moulded to suit about any situation. Interestingly, the story of the iron house describes a similarly hostile landscape to the one Cú Chulainn must cross. The context is also that of a wooing story, although the roles of the protagonists are reversed; it is the princess who must complete a set of tasks before she can reach her husband. The wheel and the apple, can therefore also be attributed to the circulation of oral folktale elements which TE absorbed.[32]

Further on his road, Cú Chulainn comes upon glend gáibthech ‘the Perilous Glen’ through which leads óentéit cóel, ‘one narrow rope’. The glen is lán di urthrachtaib ‘filled with monsters’ sent by Forgall to destroy him lest he may reach the fortress of Scáthach. The description of such a monstrous valley sounds familiar to those acquainted with folktales. But a case can also be made to trace this theme back to Irish descriptions of hell. Fís Adomnáin ‘The Vision of Adomnán’ is ascribed to Adomnán, a seventh-century abbot of Iona, but was written centuries after his death.[33] In this text, Adomnán (or rather his soul) gains a first-hand experience of the fate of the human soul after death and, by the same token, glances upon the wonders of heaven and the terrors of hell. Hell is described as a dark and barren country with a valley crossed by a bridge, which is narrow at first, then broad. Those who fall from the bridge, land in the “jaws of the eight smouldering beasts who have their dwelling there” (Carey 1998, p.270). In Robert Atkinson’s edition and translation of eschatological material found in the Leabhar Breac (Atkinson, 1887), we find a similar reference to “deep fiery glens” (glennaib dóimnib tenntigib). Evidence that secular Irish literature has been influenced by descriptions of the afterlife can also be seen in the Early Modern Irish Echtra Airt meic Cuinn edited by R. I. Best (1907) where a similar landscape is described.

It seems as though it would hardly be necessary to look for parallels outside Irish literature for the episode of the Perilous Glen, as the Irish sources paint a rather synchronized picture. It is however, worth mentioning that the twelfth-century French romance, La mule sans frein, (Méon, 1823) contains an incident in which Sir Kay rides a mule through the “Valley of the Fear of Death, which was beset by scorpions and serpents.”[34] To what extent the French poem could also have drawn on eschatological material goes beyond the scope of the current investigation.

Having finally reached the land of Scáthach, Cú Chulainn must as soon prove his of strength and valour. But his exploits are not only of heroic nature. When Scáthach is under attack by her rival Aífe, Cú Chulainn defeats her and obtains three wishes from her, the last of which consists in bearing him a son.[35] When Cú Chulainn has completed his training, Scáthach utters a prophecy about future events in Cú Chulainn’s life, his trials during the Táin Bó Cuailgne and his early demise.

Cú Chulainn’s return journey homewards is interrupted by a brief interlude on inse gall, ‘the island of the foreigners’ (the Hebrides). As he arrives at the fort of the local king, some of the companions lost at the beginning of the story are already there (perhaps as a sign that he is re-entering the world of the Ulster Cycle?).  He hears ‘wailing’ at the fort and learns that the king’s daughter is to be carrief off, and now awaits her destiny down at the shore. He joins the princess and asks who the attackers are. The princess tells him that they are Fomori[36] and that they come from an island yonder. Cú Chulainn, undeterred by the girl’s warning, stays and fights off the three attackers. The third one manages to inflict a wound on his shoulder which the girl bandages with a piece of her clothing. Cú Chulainn then takes off without leaving his name. Back at the fort, a multitude boasts of having slain the Fomori but the princess gives them no credence. Later a bath is prepared by the king to which Cú Chulainn also comes and is then recognized as the true hero (although this is not spelt out, it is presumable because of the piece of garment). The king offers him his daughter’s hand in marriage and is even willing to pay the bride-price himself. Cú Chulainn, however, refuses the girl, but invites her to Ireland in a year’s time. Then he returns to Ireland.[37]

The episode described here fits an international story pattern known as the Dragon Slayer and is listed in the Aarne-Thompson index under AT300. The basic outline of the tale-type goes as follows: i) The hero and his dogs, ii) the sacrifice, iii) the dragon, iv) the fight, v) the tongues, vi) the impostor and finally vii) the recognition. The sacrifice is here represented by the princess (as is common for the tale-type), while the role of the dragon is assumed by the Fomori,[38] which Cú Chulainn goes on to fight. Although there are no tongues to be cut out as proof, the shred of garment given to Cú Chulainn by the princess reveals his identity as the true hero and therefore serves the same function. Impostors claim to have done the deed at the fort and the scene is finally resolved when Cú Chulainn is recognized as the actual hero and offered the princess’s hand.

Tales of this kind have been exceptionally popular even since pre-Christian times and across different genres of literature. The earliest version of the dragon slayer which conforms to much of the above pattern, is doubtlessly the story of Perseus rescuing Andromeda.[39] Andromeda whose mother had boastfully compared her to the beauty of the nymphs is to be sacrificed to a sea monster. The role of the impostor is here fulfilled by Phineus, the surplus suitor to whom Andromeda had been betrothed prior to Perseus’s arrival.

Perhaps the most famous medieval version of the dragon slayer story type is the romance of Tristan and Yseult, the oldest version of which dates back to the twelfth century.[40] Tristan, nephew of king Mark of Cornwall first defends Ireland against the Irish warrior Morholt exacting tribute of young girls and boys on behalf of Ireland. After killing Morholt, Tristan sets out on a second quest to find a wife for his uncle. Upon learning that a dragon is devastating Ireland and that the king has promised his daughter Yseult to anyone who slays the monster, Tristan sets out and fulfills the task. The fight with the dragon leaves him unconscious and an impostor cuts off the dragon’s head and claims to have done the deed. As Tristan is able to produce the dragon’s tongue however, he obtains the hand of princess Yseult. On their journey back to Cornwall, the lovers drink the fateful love potion, meant for Yseult and Mark. From there the tragic love story ensues.

The parallels between Tristan and TE are readily noted. The basic structure of AT300 is intact in both instances. Moreover, we find a character named Drust mac Serb in Cú Chulainn’s company as he journeys home. This character shows up nowhere else in Irish literature and his only purpose in TE seems to be limited to being part of Cú Chulainn’s retinue. But as scholars already noticed a century ago (Deutschbein, 1904 and Thurneysen, 1921), it is likely that Drust mac Serb, whose name bears a certain resemblance to Tristan’s, was in fact the original hero of the rescue episode and was later replaced by the more famous Cú Chulainn.[41] Early Irish literature seems to provide no other example of AT300 as represented both by TE and Tristan[42]making Cú Chulainn the earliest western European dragon slayer recorded.

According to John Carey, TE is a story which looks at itself (Carey, 1989). As I hope to have shown, one could go further and state that it is also a tale which looks at other tales; a tale which acts like a mirror of the literate environment which produced it. This environment was not only aware of Ulster Cycle conventions and eschatological material, but also conversant with folktale and romance. When Cú Chulainn leaves the princess without giving his name, he is made to act like the incognito dragon slayer of the folktale whose identity is only revealed as he exposes the impostors. His lion companion and his constant need for advice rather make the martial hero look like one of Chrétien’s flawed protagonists. The hero’s literary metamorphoses express an understanding of a broader kind of literature than one might expect to find in an Early Irish tale and Tochmarc Emire is, in this respect, to be seen as a ‘tale of tales.’

[1] But even though Thurneysen sees the tale as a secondary addition, he believes that it was added ‘schon früh’.

[2] He does not figure in Scéla Muicce Maic Dá Thó which is, in fact, a parody of the Ulster Cycle and of the Táin Bó Cuailgne in particular.

[3] “There is no other Irish tale which has incorporated as many foreign saga elements as this one” (ibid, p.381).

[4] The Verba Scáthaige is one of the texts found in the now lost manuscript Cín Dromma Snechta. For the most recent edition of the early version, see Henry (1990).

[5] Scáthach has been variously described as an Amazonian queen, a warrior princess and a prophetess. She utters the Verba Scáthaige ‘Scáthach’s Words’, a prophecy concerning events which are to take place during the Táin.

[6] Nowadays the Gaelic term for Scotland, Alba designated the whole of northern Britain, including Pictish territories as well as Gaelic ones. For a detailed history of the early history of Scotland see Anderson (1973) and Woolf (2007).

[7] Conaire and Loegaire are Cú Chulainn’s competitors in in an heroic contest in the tale Fled Bricrenn (‘The Feast of Bricriu’). Conchubur himself never takes part in any of his warriors’ exploits; his involvement here perhaps underlines the significance of the quest.

[8] The Celtic feast of Halloween ; generally a time when the veil separating the mortal world from the Otherworld is lifted.

[9] For contrasting views, see especially Toner (1998) and Ó Concheanainn (1996). Thurneysen’s original division into three recensions has been dismissed as unlikely, cf Thurneysen (1921). Kuno Meyer (1890) dates the short recension of TE to the 8th century.

[10] In Aided Oenfhir Aífe, Cú Chulainn kills his own son despite Emer’s warning. For a discussion of this section, see Findon (1997).

[11] Despite his oath of chastity given to Emer, Cú Chulainn sleeps with three other women in the course of the tale and even begets a son, Connla.

[12] Ibid., §63

[13] See also Carney’s argument about pre-Christian Latin loanwords often found in a military context, in which he also includes ‘leo’, in Carney (1971, p.70).

[14] Ibid. p. 73: Carney dates the poem to the fifth century. This has been met with criticism by Ó Corráin (1985).  See also Meyer (1913). See also Tógail Bruidne Dá Derga ‘The Destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel’: Gnása ingen macdacht leó & cridi bráthar & gala mathgamna & brotha leómain, ‘manners of ripe maidens have they, and hearts of brothers, and valours of bears, and furies of lions’ (Knott, 1975, p. 27); the Táin Bó Cuailgne (here see O'Rahilly, 1978) abounds in references to warriors described as lions and with lion-like strength (cf. as leo ar aithige, ‘in fierceness like a lion, l.4295). This seems to point to the fact that lions were regarded as strong and valorous animals. The conventional idea of the lion as ‘king of beasts’ is also found in one of the homilies in Leabhar Breac, edited in Atkinson (1887), where the term used is airchindech ‘ruler, chief’: PH 6383.

[15] ibid.

[16] Composed concurrently with Le chevalier à la charette between 1177 and 1181 (Loomis, 1959, p.180) ; cf. Fourrier (1950).

[17] cf. Chotzen (1902, p.52) and Zenker (1921) : Zenker notes the parallel to the Welsh equivalent of the Yvain story, Iarlles y Ffynnon, ‘The Countess of the Fountain’ in which the lion is black. He sees the dark colour of the beast as proof for a connection with the realm of the dead. He disregards, as Chotzen duly notes the fact that the version of Iarlles in the White Book of Rhydderch describes the lion as purwyn ‘pure white’, and that the colour of the fur should be ascribed to the author’s invention instead.

[18] ibid, p. 55

[19] Text and translation from Rolfe (1984), p. 425. Aulus Gellius relates that he had found this story in the Αιγυπτιακά,  ‘Wonders of Egypt’ of Apion.

[20] ibid., p. 422. The friendship between a lion and a man does not only exist in fiction: If one thinks of the two Australians, Anthony Bourke and John Rendall, who bought a lion cub in Harrods department store in London in 1969 and raised it in their home. When Christian, as he was named, grew too big to be living in a small London flat, the friends decided to return him to the wilderness of Kenia, his natural habitat. Visiting the country a year later, they were told that their lion had now become wild, and would not recognise them. To both their surprise, Christian not only remembered them well, ‘hugging’ and nudging both men, but also introduced them to the rest of his pride (Bourke et Rendall, 2009).

[21] As Philip Healy has pointed out to me, a similar incident is also found in the Betha Brenainn Clúana Ferta ‘The Life of Brendan of Clonfert’ in which Brendan goes to the desert and tames a lion and a lionness, compelling them to protect the cattle of the locals (Plummer, 1922, ii, p.82).

[22] It has, however, lent its name to the tale-type listed under 156 Thorn removed from the Lion’s Paw (Androcles and the Lion) in the Aarne-Thompson folktale index (Aarne, 1961). Althgough the entry gives mostly folktale references, ‘literary treatments’ are noted at the end. One of these literary sources for 156 is found in the Gesta Romanorum (Hooper and Swan, 1906), a fourteenth-century collection of tales and fables. Tale 104 gives a courtly reinterpretation of the Androcles story in which the place of the slave is assumed by a knight.

[23] For a reference to Daniel, see Carey (1998), p.225.

[24] Chotzen refutes this (op. cit. p.55).

[25] Cf. Aarne’s types 530-559.

[26] perhaps a Celtic Proto-Yvain.

[27] See however, Tony Hunt’s article on the sources of the lion episode in Yvain. Hunt argues that Chrétien was too well read and too careful, not to give way to any allegorical meaning that could be attached to the lion, i.e. that the lion be attached to any religious meaning. He further claims that Chrétien’s treatment of the lion was possibly derived from Ovid and Isidore, from which he took the motif of parcere prostratis ‘sparing the defeated’, and the idea of the lion as the paragon of morality. Cf. Hunt (1983), pp 86-98. Doris Edel also mentions the lion episode in TE but only refers to the afore-mentioned articles by Brown and Chotzen. Cf.Edel, 1980, pp.125-6 and notes.

[28] Ibid. p.31.

[29] If we agree with Meyer’s date of the eighth century for the first recension of TE, then Wulfstan, who lived in the late tenth/early eleventh century, can most certainly not be equated with Ulbecán.

[30] Edel (op. cit., p.129) has suggested that this description may refer to a plain frozen over in winter. Since the wheel is narrow and rolls fast, Cú Chulainn must cross the first half of the plain with speed in order not to get stuck. The apple (or ‘round thing’ as the word uball can also be interpreted) is broader and the hero is supposed to walk carefully across the slippery surface.

[31] It is also found as an AT tale-type listed under 934E The Magic Ball of Thread (Aarne, 1961, p.330). A ball of thread leading the way is also found in the Classical account of Theseus and the minotaur.

[32] For further references to folktale connections, see Baudiš, 1923, p.101.

[33] The Annals of Ulster record Adamnán’s death in the year 704 (Mac Airt & Mac Niocaill, 2004)

[34] Translation in Brown (op. cit., p.692).

[35] The story of Aífe’s son is related in Aided Oenfhir Aífe, mentioned above.

[36] Originally creatures from Irish mythology, the semantic development of the Fomori in Irish literature eventually turns them into ‘giants’.

[37] This episode is later resolved when Derbforgaill (the princess has no name in the first episode) travels to Ireland in the shape of a bird. Cú Chulainn, having hit the bird with a stone from his sling, sucks it out of the girl’s wound. He then tells her that he cannot marry her because he has drunk her blood and they are now considered kin. Instead he gives her to his fosterson Lugaid Reoderg (Van Hamel, 1933)

[38] The actual monster to be slain varies from region to region : thus we tend to find giants in the Scandinavian countries, whereas as dragons and ogres are more dominant on the Continent.

[39] For a detailed study of the Andromeda story type, see Edwin S. Hartland (1894).

[40] For a semi-diplomatic edition of the early French poems, see Payen (1989). The French evidence only represents fragments of the romance. For the first complete witness see Eilhart von Oberge’s Tristrant, most recently edited inBuschinger (2007) (modern French translation)and Bussmann (1969).

[41] Carney believed that a so-called ‘Ur-Tristan’ developed in northern Britain and later travelled south (Carney, 1979, pp. 187ff.)

[42] Unfortunately, Tom Peete Cross’s (1952) index of motifs in Early Irish literature has been of little help here, as his references are often misleading or point to a dead end.



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Review—Colin Duggan

Review—Handbook of the Theosophical Current, by Olav Hammer and Mikael Rothstein (eds.),

Leiden: Brill, 2013. xii + 494 pp., €168

Colin Duggan

Study of Religions, UCC

Twenty chapters on separate topics plus the editorial introduction are a significant and welcome contribution to the study of the Theosophical Society, its offshoots, and broader cultural influences. The fact that such a substantial text only scratches the surface of relevant studies in this area illustrates the scope of the task the editors and contributors have accomplished with a great level of success. Although the important role of the Theosophical Society in a broad range of areas is becoming more widely accepted, this is the first text to assemble a variety of research on this topic and, in its organisation and layout, demonstrate the extent of this importance. Hammer and Rothstein refer to the Theosophical Society and its influence as one of the “pivotal chapters of religious history in the West”(1) and its particular importance for the fields of Western esotericism and New Religious Movements.

After the introduction, the book proceeds in three parts. The first has four chapters dealing with Theosophical societies in a periodized and somewhat regionalized manner. The second comprises eight chapters concerning itself chiefly with groups and individuals whose work and activities were born out of the theosophical milieu. The eight chapters of the third part highlight the interactions between the theosophical milieu and broader socio-cultural themes and knowledge systems. The text as a whole addresses the major themes and important issues related to the study of theosophical currents including: charismatic authority versus rational legal authority and their interactions; the strategies of legitimisation employed including appeals to intermediaries and religious experiences, particularly during fragmentations of the society or succession of new leaders; social reform; orientalism; occult, cosmological and macro- history with regard to root races, evolution (spiritual and physical), reincarnation, ancient civilisations, and perennial wisdom; gender and the role of women; healing and health; sacred geography; science, art, and literature; and the dual role of Christianity as target of polemics and source of wisdom.

The first part provides a solid and clear foundation in the history of the Theosophical Society, its generations of leadership, and the early fragmentations. It begins with Joselyn Godwin’s chapter on Blavatsky and the first generation of Theosophy, the chapters by Catherine Wessinger and Tim Rudbøg elucidate the post-secession leadership on either side of the Atlantic of Annie Besant and Katherine Tingley respectively, and W. Michael Ashcraft’s chapter looks at the third generation including further fragmentations and the later attempts to reunify sections of the international society. This part organises what can be a confusing history of schism and fragmentation into a coherent overview and is an excellent point of entry to the field for students and scholars. The second part investigates those individuals and groups who can be said to have a more or less direct influence from the Theosophical society and may have founded new groups with significant changes, individual success, or a claim to be a return to authentic Theosophy. Sean O’Callaghan examines Alice Bailey’s Christology, Katharina Brandt and Olav Hammer look at the career of Rudolph Steiner, Shannon Trosper Schorey focuses on Edgar Cayce, Tim Rudbøg analyses the I AM Activity, Michael Abravanel considers The Summit Lighthouse, and Anita Stasulane explores the lives of the Roerichs. The exceptions in this part being Olav Hammer’s chapter that delineates connections between the theosophical milieu and the broader, more contentious concept of the ‘New Age’ and Mikael Rothstein’s chapter that looks at the theosophical influences on the rise of UFO related movements and the ufological turn. The third part places Theosophy in a broader context and looks at how it interacted with other cultural knowledge systems and issues such as race and gender. Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke’s chapter places the emphasis back on those elements of Theosophy that can be traced to a western conception of an ‘esoteric tradition’, Christopher Partridge addresses Theosophy in the context of orientalism, Isaac Lubelsky clarifies some of the issues regarding race in theosophical discourse, Siv Ellen Kraft examines the expanded role of women in the theosophical milieu, Garry Trompf analyses the complex cosmological macrohistory of theosophical literature, Egil Asprem shows the problems created by Theosophy both appealing to and attempting to subsume science, Tessel Bauduin traces the significant aspects of Theosophy in modern art, and Ingvild Sælid Gilhus and Lisbeth Mikaelson provide an overview of Theosophy and literary fiction.

As pointed out by the editors, and considering the breadth of material to be addressed, not everything could be included in the book and there is plenty of scope for further research. Many of the chapters, particularly in part three, map out the important factors to be considered for further research in the area, and with this mapping in mind, the addition of two more chapters would have been hugely beneficial. The text could have benefitted from a chapter dedicated to the political attitudes and activities of the various societies and their members with a focus on the role of individualism and the influence of socialism. This would have sat well beside the chapters in part three that look at interactions with broader cultural themes and knowledge systems. Although the text contains a chapter on the literary aspects of the theosophical milieu, a chapter dedicated to media, particularly the journals, magazines, and periodicals of the society, would illustrate one of the primary means of communication employed by the societies. Through these, a global network of opinion, literature, politics, and correspondence was facilitated, contributing greatly to the later more diffuse nature of theosophical influence. A regionalised approach to the study of the society and the activities of its members in different periods is a necessary next step for this research area.

One point of criticism concerns the east-west problem or how the society’s orientalism is discussed and contextualised. In a number of chapters, this topic is addressed but never fully clarified and a more coherent framework applied across the text would have been beneficial. From the point of view of the authors and the author’s subjects, more nuance could have been shown when using this problematic divide, particularly with respect to figures like Blavatsky. At times, the ‘Orient’ is simply the non-Christian east and at others, it is the exotic, unknown, and hidden. This second ‘Orient’ is subject to de-orientalising as the 20th century progresses but the first is a broader problem in European identity politics concerning concepts like Christendom. Some further explanation of the dynamics at work in the central discourses concerning the east and west would have benefitted the overall coherence of the text and demonstrated the complexity and fluidity of the ‘Orient’ and orientalism. Finally, small errors are almost inescapable when compiling such a large and comprehensive volume. Godwin’s chapter reverses the years of the events surrounding the society’s meeting and subsequent collaboration with the Arja Samaj (21-22). Also, Kraft’s chapter refers to a text of which the full details are not provided in the bibliography (364). This volume is a valuable contribution to the study of the Theosophical Society and its influence not only for its clear and organised presentation of existing research but the platform it creates for ongoing and future work in this large and complex area.


Graduate School of the College of Arts, Celtic Studies and Social Sciences, O'Rahilly Building, University College Cork