Asa Simon Mittman deposited “The Exotic in the Early Middle Ages,” with Susan Kim, Literature Compass, ed. Elaine Treharne (Blackwell Publishing, 2008) in the group Medieval Art on Humanities Commons 3 years, 5 months ago
The dominant literate culture of early medieval England – male, European, and Christian – often represented itself through comparison to exotic beings and monsters, in traditions developed from native mythologies, and Classical and Biblical sources. So pervasive was this reflexive identification that the language of the monstrous occurs not only in fictional travel narratives, but at the heart of constructions of the native hero as well as the Christian saint. In these constructions we read the central contradiction in this literature: the monster must be ‘other’ and yet cannot be absolutely so; on the contrary, the monster remains recognizable, familiar, seductive, and possible. In this essay, we discuss textual sources for the early medieval monstrous, sources ranging from Pliny to Augustine and Isidore. As we survey early medieval texts dealing with the monstrous in genres including catalog, epic, and hagiography as well as visual depictions in manuscript illustration and the mappaemundi, we consider historically particular cultural and political motivations for the representation of the monstrous in these texts, among them the early Christian conversions and shifting national boundaries.