chapter  9
Constructive and Destructive Violence in Jean d’Arras’ Roman de Mélusine
Pages 18

As Albrecht Classen states in his introduction to this volume, violence is a ubiquitous force that has constantly shaped human history since time immemorial, and still shapes human history. One need only open to the first few pages of Genesis to observe that Cain, the very first soul born on Earth, committed the heinous crime of fratricide and that the end predicted for the human race in Revelation is that of fiery extinction. Although the specter of violence is not likely to disappear in the near future, as it circumscribes our past and present, we may perhaps better understand violence by observing how people in medieval times either engaged in what we might term violent activities or tried to mitigate the destructive consequences of violence. Attitudes toward the use of violence usually in the form of physical acts or harsh words may be positive or negative depending on who applies the violence, who becomes the recipient of violent acts, whether the violence is open or hidden, and to what purpose it has been wielded. As I will attempt to show in my chapter, violence can be both constructive and destructive depending on the variables mentioned above. When violence is applied in the name of human or divine law so as to maintain social order, right criminal wrongs, preserve one’s lands or the Christian faith, it is generally perceived as justifiable and beneficial. The recipients of such acts are outlaws, giants, or the Saracen other.1 In contrast, when violence is directed inward against family members, it generally has negative repercussions that threaten to dissolve the family or social structure, lead to personal exile and possible loss of salvation in the afterlife, menace the welfare of future generations, and snowball into a vicious cycle of reprisals. Familial violence, like molten lava, cannot remain hidden forever and the longer it smolders underground, the more violently it erupts; yet once brought to the surface, such violence can be expiated, and with a contrite and penitent heart, even the worst of sinners may find redemption.