Agamben on Bandits and Werewolves

Language, Law

Agamben on bandits and werewoves:

The medieval ban also presents analogous traits: the bandit could be killed (… To ban’ someone is to say that anyone may harm him”…) or was even considered to be already dead (…“Whoever is banned from his city on pain of death must be considered as dead”…). Germanic and Anglo-Saxon sources underline the bandits liminal status by defining him as a wolf-man (wargus, werwolf, the Latin garulphus, from which the French loup garou, werewolf,” is derived) : thus Salic law and Ripuarian law use the formula wargus sit, hoc est expukus in a sense that recalls the sacer esto that sanctioned the sacred man’s capacity to be killed, and the laws of Edward the Confessor (1030-35) define the bandit as a wulfesheud (a wolf’s head) and assimilate him to the werewolf (…“He bears a wolf’s head from the day of his expulsion, and the English call this wulfesheud”). What had to remain in the collective unconscious as a monstrous hybrid of human and animal, divided between the forest and the city — the werewolf — is, therefore, in its origin the figure of the man who has been banned from the city. That such a man is defined as a wolf-man and not simply as a wolf (the expression caput lupinum has the form of a juridical statute) is decisive here. The life of the bandit, like that of the sacred man, is not a piece of animal nature without any relation to law and the city. It is, rather, a threshold of indistinction and of passage be-tween animal and man, physis and nomos, exclusion and inclusion: the life of the bandit is the life of the loup garou, the werewolf, who is precisely neither man nor beast, and who dwells paradoxically within both while belonging to neither.

Homo Sacer, p. 63