Writing Combat and the Self in Early Modern English by Jennifer Feather (auth.)

By Jennifer Feather (auth.)

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Citing Homer’s praise of physicians and explicitly imagining their place on the battlefield, he places his practice within a tradition of heroic combat. 9 This tradition of heroism includes not only classical but medieval models. 10 By invoking the important place of the physician in combat, Vesalius both calls upon classical authorities and situates himself in the tradition of medieval heroes, even as he may disavow the medieval roots of his self-presentation. This claim establishes the foundations of modern notions of agency in a tradition of combat that stretches from the classical to the medieval and transforms the discourse of combat that 26 Wr iting Combat a nd the Self it appropriates.

However, combat among members within the knightly community still functions as mutually constitutive, transforming both combatants. The simultaneity of these two conceptions of combat shows the reliance of humanist constructions of self on premodern notions of selfhood, revealing the premodern roots of English humanism. Spenser is able both to construct Irish and pagan difference using combat and to articulate English virtue as heroic, while maintaining the considerable symbolic power of knightly combat as mutually constitutive in creating the identity of the members of the knightly community.

The sort of distinction Vesalius draws is consolidated to the point that von Hagens can quickly and easily invoke it centuries later. Though Vesalius defers to the theologians in the discussion of the resurrection, he insinuates an affinity between pondering these metaphysical questions and the less intellectually and morally legitimate practices of occult philosophers. 34 Wr iting Combat a nd the Self He writes that “Because of them [the theologians], we shall offer no opinion about the marvelous and occult powers of the inner ossicle of the right big toe, no matter how much better the supply available to us of this bone from a hung thief or from time to time a lover,32 or from public dissections, than was available to those three ferocious harlots at Venice33 —who recently butchered an infant for the purpose of comparing this ossicle to the heart of a virgin boy and removed his living heart, and (as they richly deserved) paid the severest penalty for their crime,”34 deferring questions of metaphysics to theologians.

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