(F)Rausein, Körperhaar und anthropologische Differenz

Die Raue Else im ‚Wolfdietrich‘ B/D


References to the association of body hair with animality can be found in various late antique and medieval writings. Lactantius or Hildegard von Bingen, for example, argue that the lack of body hair and feathers distinguishes humans from animals. Although even a brief look at the world of nature can shake these assumptions, they seem to have persisted for hundreds of years. Con­sidering body hair in (late) ancient and medieval texts, this article investigates the fragility, the resilience and the overlap of supposed human–animal characteristics. Body hair in medieval texts insinuates processes that take place beneath the skin, and it is the visible expres­sion of qualities and characteristics that are commonly considered animalistic, such as a lack of impulse control or temperance. It is not surprising that a hairy human being (and especially a hairy woman) often stands for the transgression of boundaries in medieval German litera­ture. This can be illustrated by the ‘Raue Else’, a hairy woman in the anonymous text ‘Wolfdietrich’ B/D. The body hair that separates the Raue Else from the courtly world must first be removed so the hero Wolfdietrich can sleep with her and she can eventually be (re)integrated into courtly society. This article focuses on the supposed anthropological difference – naked human and hairy ani­mal – in various texts of (late) Antiquity and the Middle Ages, aiming to show that the categories of ‘animal’ and ‘human’ are not dissolved, but recede into the background. That is, the hair of the body itself becomes a visual moral marker – whether it is on a human or an animal.


Body Hair, Human–Animal Difference, Human–Animal Studies, Raue Else, ‘Wolfdietrich’