Animal Crossings of Human Borders

Human–Animal Relationships in Three Lays by Marie de France


This article examines a selection of border cross­ings carried out by animals in three of Marie de France’s lays. It will be argued that the animal characters perform acts of border crossing that introduce and highlight a non-traditional representation of the human–animal relationship. The examples encompass the speaking hind in ‘Guigemar’, whose anthropomorphised representation destabilises the human–animal border; the weasel in ‘Eliduc’, which revives its mate and crosses the boundary of life and death; and the messenger swan in ‘Milun’, which disregards man-made (physical) borders and, as a pet, occupies an intriguing position on the human–animal spectrum. Besides their implied subversive potential, the three acts of border crossing also raise questions of agency, self-awareness, emotional capacity, and rational thought. Drawing on these concepts of animal studies, I aim to analyse the animals’ representations and to contextualise them in the philosophical, scientific, and cultural environment of the 12th century.


Animal Studies, Border Crossings, Human–Animal Studies, ‘Lais’, Marie de France