Here there be spiders: arachnophobia in early medieval texts

Lecture room 3 Arts Building
Arts and Law, Lectures Talks and Workshops, Research, Students
Wednesday 4th October 2017 (16:00-18:00)
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CREMS Early Modern Literature, Culture and Society Seminar series Autumn 2017 and
Centre for the Study of the Middle Ages (CeSMA) seminar 

  • Speaker: Megan Cavell (University of Birmingham)

All staff and students are welcome to attend.  Refreshments will be provided.

The seminar will be followed by a joint welcome reception CESMA, CREMS, EMREM for postgraduate medievalists/early modernists.


One of the most remarkable aspects of modern human-spider relations is the prevalence of arachnophobia in places with few or no highly dangerous spider species.

This talk will probe the extent to which this phenomenon can be identified in Old and early Middle English medical, philosophical and religious texts, and explore how they diverge from the classical and biblical traditions' approaches to spiders. Through discussion of the sources of the early English material, the paper will argue for a distinctive trend in highlighting the frightening and sometimes monstrous nature of spiders in the vernacular tradition.

Megan Cavell is a Birmingham Fellow, whose research has focused on literary representations of material culture, constructed objects and textiles, as well as theoretical approaches to non-human animals and the natural world. My first book, Weaving Words and Binding Bodies: The Poetics of Human Experience in Old English Literature (University of Toronto Press, 2016), explored the Anglo-Saxon literary fascination with constructive processes and constrictive practices, emphasising the ways in which Old English texts depict everything from material objects and human/animal bodies to abstract concepts as shaped things. Her current interdisciplinary animal studies project, provisionally entitled Fearing the Beast: Animal Identities in Early and High Medieval England, examines the disregarded histories of non-human animals. By engaging with written, visual and material sources, it will explore how medieval writers depicted predatory encounters between a range of human and non-human species, from spiders to wolves. Exploring issues of fear and inter-species conflict, this study is particularly timely given debates over the reintroduction of predator species across Europe.