Spiritual Poverty and the Topos of Thirst

Hello all,

I’m currently beavering away in the planning and creation of a second chapter, which I will soon explain to you in detail. This is quite a refreshing topic to write on, because I am much better supported by secondary source material this time around. My first chapter was sort of wacky, and there wasn’t a huge amount out there to help me. No doubt i’ll continue to find more material to go with it as I go along.

For today, I thought that i’d post the abstract for a conference paper that I just submitted. It will be my first proper paper, and i’m excited about it. It is pretty short, so I hope you enjoy it. I’ll post the full paper up here when i’ve finished and presented it. Best Wishes!

So the satiated man hungers, the drunken thirsts”: The topos of spiritual nutrition within High medieval thought.


The experience of thirst is, for the mind, an instinctive desire for replenishment. Amplified by the cravings of the body, it symbolizes the desire to remain extant, to sustain our vitality and indeed, our very life-force. It is, in short, the most powerful driving force of our existence, the instinct for life over death, satiety over want and wholeness over deficiency. The malnutrition, sickness and eventual death that result from a failure to cater for the basic need of the human body to drink is perhaps one of the most compelling images that spring to mind when we imagine an experience of poverty. Within the medieval imagination, the experience of thirst was not confined to the physical and material world, for one felt a powerful abstract thirst for the requirements of the spirit mirroring a corresponding thirst of the body.

Through symbols of nutritive spirituality, the bodily need for its fundamental requirements, was transformed into a spiritual quest for that which sustained it, the instinctive reaching of humanity towards the ultimate source of life. Thirst represented a profound longing for a quality required for satiety, a lack or defect of the soul. Without the apprehension of that which sustained and nourished the soul, the human race was doomed to an eternity of the spiritual poverty that it had felt since the Fall.

Within this paper, I will discuss a series of High medieval imaginings of spiritual thirst, and its representation through transference of symbolism from the physical realm. The work of a variety of writers from this period including Guibert of Nogent, Alan of Lille and Godfrey of St. Victor will serve as primary source examples in a discussion of what is was to feel thirst within the spirit, and to experience poverty within the soul.

So the satiated man hungers, the drunken thirsts”: The topos of spiritual nutrition within High medieval thought.

The experience of thirst is, for the mind, an instinctive desire for replenishment. Amplified by the cravings of the body, it symbolizes the desire to remain extant, to sustain our vitality and indeed, our very life-force. It is, in short, the most powerful driving force of our existence, the instinct for life over death, satiety over want and wholeness over deficiency. The malnutrition, sickness and eventual death that result from a failure to cater for the basic need of the human body to drink is perhaps one of the most compelling images that spring to mind when we imagine an experience of poverty. Within the medieval imagination, the experience of thirst was not confined to the physical and material world, for one felt a powerful abstract thirst for the requirements of the spirit mirroring a corresponding thirst of the body.

Through symbols of nutritive spirituality, the bodily need for its fundamental requirements, was transformed into a spiritual quest for that which sustained it, the instinctive reaching of humanity towards the ultimate source of life. Thirst represented a profound longing for a quality required for satiety, a lack or defect of the soul. Without the apprehension of that which sustained and nourished the soul, the human race was doomed to an eternity of the spiritual poverty that it had felt since the Fall.

Within this paper, I will discuss a series of High medieval imaginings of spiritual thirst, and its representation through a transference of symbolism from the physical realm. The work of a variety of writers from this period including Guibert of Nogent, Alan of Lille and Godfrey of St. Victor will serve as primary source examples in a discussion of what is was to feel thirst within the spirit, and to experience poverty within the soul.

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