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The Great Chain of Being in the Medieval Period


The Great Chain of Being. From Didacus Valades, Rhetorica Christiana (1579).

Reproduced here from Anthony Fletcher's Gender, Sex, & Subordination. - Original page - Gender and Politics in Literature 1688-1750

During the medieval period The Great Chain of Being represented a visual metaphor for a divinely inspired universal hierarchy ranking all forms of higher and lower life. At the top is God, immediately underneath are His angels, tgen Kings and Queens (or Pope if one is Catholic), and the whole feudal social stratified sequence of Archbishops, Dukes and Duchesses, Bishops, and so on, down through the ranks of greater and lesser nobles, to commoners and tradesmen, servants, tennant farmers, beggars, pirates, thieves (and actors and gypsies who were likewise placed near or at the bottom) then the various kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, insects, worms, plants, minerals, and rocks.




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page by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 5 July 2004