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Getting Medieval: Juniata Historian Privy to 'Retribution Lit

(Posted November 16, 2009)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- In the Bible and in ancient mythology, sinners and transgressors are always dying horribly, usually as an example to for people to heed in their own behavior. Belle Tuten, professor of history at Juniata College, will explain medieval tales where sinners met their maker while "indisposed" in the talk "Bad Men's Bad Ends: Justice and Privy Death in Medieval Monastic Literature" at 4:30 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 18 in Neff Lecture Hall in the von Liebig Center for Science on the Juniata campus.

The lecture is free and open to the public. The Bookend Seminar series features afternoon lectures each month by Juniata College faculty.

"A surprising number of these stories feature dramatic deaths that either take place on the privy or are the result of dysentery or (other intestinal problems)."
Belle Tuten, professor of history

Tuten, who specializes in medieval history, will explain how medieval authors, most of whom were monks in monasteries, would write stories in monastic chronicles from the 10th to the 13th century, in which sinful people (usually an enemy) died in divine retribution from God for their bad behavior. "A surprising number of these stories feature dramatic deaths that either take place on the privy or are the result of dysentery or (other intestinal problems)," she says.

Tuten will explain how these digestively related tales date back before medieval times and talk of how monastic authors used these undignified deaths to connect sin, divine vengeance, greed and bowel afflictions as examples of the gruesome fate awaiting sinners and the perceived enemies of the monastery.

Tuten's main interests are in medieval culture and history from 300 to 1500 A.D. and early modern social history, with an emphasis in the history of women and family. In addition, Tuten teaches courses in the history of Islam and the history of God.

Tuten earned a bachelor's degree in history from the College of Charleston in Charleston, S.C. in 1991 and went on to earn a master's degree in 1994 and a doctorate in history in 1997 from Emory University in Atlanta, Ga.

In 2003 she was named the W. Newton and Hazel A. Long Professor of History at Juniata. She received the 2001 Beachley Award for Distinguished Academic Service for junior faculty. Tuten also was named the 1999 Juniata May Day Faculty Woman of the Year. She has presented papers at the Southeastern Medieval Association and the International Colloquium on Medieval Studies.

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.