Forskargruppe i mellomalderfilologi

Hairy Body - Rough Skin

Nora Grundtner gives a lecture on material 'hair' as a sign of border crossing in Medieval German literature.

hairy figure
Image detail of "Two scenes from 'Der Busant' (The Buzzard)", tapestry from Alsace (1480-90)
Wikimedia commons


Esau, one of the twin sons of Isaac and Rebecca in the book of Genesis, is described as a man with dense body hair. To emphasize Esau‘s hairiness, his body is compared with a hide. This overlap of body hair and fur links hairy surfaces in general with an ‘Esauian’ character, a ‘primitive’ and earthly life. This connection can also be observed in a number of Medieval German Texts.

By means of a few examples, I would like to show how the difference between whether it is skin or actual body hair is levelled, and hair in general serves as a projection surface of character traits. Furthermore, such hairy surfaces break the boundary of inside and outside; between clothing and skin and the differences of species. My intention is to show how hairy coats can function as a sign of disturbed order, of exuberant violence, of blind revenge and uncontrolled sexuality.

Nora Grundtner is at the moment a guest researcher at the Department of Linguistic, Literature and Aesthetic Studies. Since 2018 she works as a research fellow at the Department of Medieval German Language and Literature in Salzburg (Austria). Her main research focusses on the material culture of medieval literature, in particular the relationship between human, animal and object.