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Introduction: What is an animal?

What is an animal, and what is its relationship to a human? Are animals distinctly separate creatures, or is humanity something that is readily lost into animality? Medieval thinkers reflected on these questions. The influential fourth-century church father Augustine was adamant about the separation: “And so I should not believe, on any consideration, that the body-to say nothing of the soul-can be converted into the limbs and features of animals by the craft or power of demons.”1 The early thirteenth-century chronicler, Gerald of Wales, was less certain and told the following tale:

One evening … he happened to meet a girl whom he had loved for a long time. … He was enjoying himself in her arms and tasting her delights, when suddenly, instead of the beautiful girl, he found in his embrace a hairy creature, rough and shaggy, and indeed, repulsive beyond words. As he stared at the monster his wits deserted him and he became quite mad.2