The image of the stag in literary and iconographic traditions of the Middle Ages
The thesis studies a number of associated iconographic motifs and narrative Types featuring the stag in medieval literature and art. After preliminary discussion of the methodological problems involved in identifying and classifying motifs, archaeological evidence is examined which suggests that the stag may have a totemic or symbolic function in early religions. The allegorisation of the belief, found in classical zoology, that the stag prolongs its life by eating snakes is shown to have had a rich development in Patristic writings, Islamic sources, Bestiaries and encyclopaedias, ecclesiastical art and Renaissance emblems. The legend of the Oldest Animals also affirms the stag's longevity, and is associated with concepts of universal time and dynastic history in folklore and in texts from Hesiod to John Donne. The legend of Caesar's deer is interpreted as a dynastic nyth, associated with ideas of imperial renovatio, and the version in which the deer is depicted as a winged stag carried these into French royal heraldry and poems of political prophecy, in which there are also traces of the stag as a symbol of justice. The white hart which acts as a miraculous guide in saints' legends and romances is shown to preserve traces of primitive fertility and royalty symbolism. The continuity and transformational variety of the various motifs and traditions is affirmed.