Asa Simon Mittman deposited “Are the ‘monstrous races’ races?” postmedieval 6:1 (Spring 2015): 36–51 in the group Monsters and Monstrosity on Humanities Commons 3 years, 2 months ago
This essay considers the use of the modern term ‘monstrous races’ to describe the wondrous beings found in Herodotus, Pliny, The Wonders of the East, world maps and elsewhere. Considering the etymology and history of the word ‘race,’ a series of modern definitions are tested out on figures found in the images and texts of the British Library MS Harley 3954 Book of John Mandeville, the BL MS Tiberius B.v Marvels of the East, The King of Tars, Cursor Mundi and other medieval sources. The essay questions whether the term, often rooted in modern notions about the fixity of divisions of peoples, is helpful for describing medieval concepts. The essay further explores how the term ‘monstrous races’ reifies the culture of the medieval authors and illuminators – often in practice ‘white’ European Christians – as a ‘race,’ and implicitly, if unintentionally, elevates this group as normative.