Simultaneously real and unreal, the dead are people, yet they are not. The society of medieval Europe developed a rich set of imaginative traditions about death and the afterlife, using the dead as a point of entry for thinking about the self, regeneration, and loss. These macabre preoccupations are evident in the widespread popularity of stories about the returned dead, who interacted with the living both as disembodied spirits and as living corpses or revenants. In Afterlives, Nancy Mandeville Caciola explores this extraordinary phenomenon of the living's relationship with the dead in Europe during the five hundred years after the year 1000.
Caciola considers both Christian and pagan beliefs, showing how certain traditions survived and evolved over time, and how attitudes both diverged and overlapped through different contexts and social strata. As she shows, the intersection of Christian eschatology with various pagan afterlife imaginings-from the classical paganisms of the Mediterranean to the Germanic, Celtic, Slavic, and Scandinavian paganisms indigenous to northern Europe-brought new cultural values about the dead into the Christian fold as Christianity spread across Europe. Indeed, the Church proved surprisingly open to these influences, absorbing new images of death and afterlife in unpredictable fashion. Over time, however, the persistence of regional cultures and beliefs would be counterbalanced by the effects of an increasingly centralized Church hierarchy. Through it all, one thing remained constant: the deep desire in medieval people to bring together the living and the dead into a single community enduring across the generations.
"Afterlives is an enlivening read for anyone tickled by ghost stories or the recurrent need to represent the social unconscious; its occasional repetitions notwithstanding, it delivers on the author's promise to "chart... a history of the unknown: of pure, unslaked curiosity," a quest as true of its illumination of medieval afterlives as it is of resourcing the medieval period itself."* MAKE Literary Magazine *
"A reader wishing to be informed of the theories and responses governing the returned dead in the Middle Ages should look no further than here. The book is a pleasure to read: elegantly written and well produced (with an excellent index). The book acts as a timely and lucid appraisal of recent work in the area of the premodern ghost, and is a stimulating survey of the varieties of its representation and understanding. It is a powerful and rewarding reading of surviving evidence, and of a cultural fascination that shows no sign of resting quietly."* American Historical Review *
Nancy Mandeville Caciola is Associate Professor of History at the University of California, San Diego. She is the author of Discerning Spirits: Divine and Demonic Possession in the Middle Ages, also from Cornell.
Part One: Imagining Mortality
1. Mors, A Critical Biography
2. Diagnosing Death
Part Two: Corporeal Revenants
3. Revenants, Resurrection, and Burnt Sacrifice
4. The Ancient Army of the Undead
5. Flesh and Bone: The Semiotics of Mortality
Part Three: The Disembodied Dead
6. Psychopomps, Oracles, and Spirit Mediums
7. Spectral Possession